Buddha came to Sussex.
An account of the English Sangha Trust and the
establishment of Chithurst Monastery, by Ajahn Sucitto
Convention and Sila Practice. Buddhist Society, 1982
Oaken Holt, April 1979
to the Mind. Chithurst, Feb 1981
Hindrances. Buddhist Society, 1979
MONASTERY AS TEACHER
and the Vihara. Hampstead Vihara, May 1978
Anagarika Ordination. Chithurst, Sep 1982
Bikkhu Ordination at Chithurst. Ajahn Anando, July 1981
and Society. Chithurst, July 1983
Chithurst, Aug 1982
Practice of Metta. Buddhist Centre, Perth, Western
Australia, Jan 1983
Rebirth. Chithurst, Feb 1982
the Mind. Chithurst, Sep 1982
to Teachers. Chithurst, April 1983
the title of this book, is a word in the Pali language meaning
'the mind of non-attachment'. A major theme of the Buddha's
teaching known as the Dhamma is that suffering is caused by
attachment, and that the aim and result of the correct application
of the teachings is a mind of non-attachment.
Actually, through the practice of Buddhist meditation, the very
impression of a substantial permanent mind is understood as being
a mirage, the result of attaching to a sequence of fleeting mental
states. As long as that model of permanence is retained even
with the wish to have or be a permanently non-attached mind it
will give rise to further painful (if subtle) I attachment. So the
'cittaviveka' is not another fixed mental state, but a sensitive
response in each moment, a non-grasping that Ajahn Sumedho
frequently calls 'letting go'. This practice of lightness or
'enlightenment' is not a matter of affirmation or rejection, but
of a clear-minded investigation of what we can know through our
senses. It is the method that underlies the teachings in this book
and the way of life that evolves from these teachings.
'Cittaviveka' is also the name as an aspiration, and slight
word-play for Chithurst Buddhist Monastery, the first forest
tradition monastery to be established in Britain. Forest
monasteries, as the prologue indicates, are not what most people
consider monasteries to be: they are generally a scattering of
simple huts in a remote forest region, with a few communal
buildings for meetings and amenities. Such a situation is rare in
the West, and when Chithurst Monastery came about, it generated
quite a lot of interest in Buddhist circles, an interest that was
also based on a respect for Ajahn Sumedho and those men and women
who would commit themselves to such a life. As interest grew,
supporters of the monastery asked that a book be composed that
would bring the image of 'Cittaviveka' across to those who had not
seen the monastery or heard the teachings.
The Buddhist monastic life presents the opportunity for the most
unambiguous practice of letting go. The life is centred around the
relinquishment of personal concern and ambition by means of
traditional discipline (Vinaya) established by the Buddha. It is
also buoyed up by the moral and practical support of lay people
whose co-operation and generosity allow the monastics to live
within a clearly defined and supportive lifestyle. The monastics
collectively called 'Sangha' provide examples and teachings of
enlightenment to support the lay person's own cultivation, as well
as maintaining the monasteries that facilitate practice and that
are open to lay and ordained persons alike. The monk or nun can be
likened to a researcher who can go ahead of non-specialists to
ascertain information for their use, or as a scout who can find a
trail for others to follow. The Dhamma teachings are available to
all, but a Buddha discovers and proclaims them, and a living
Sangha exemplifies the Way.
The prologue of this book describes how the monastery in West
Sussex came to be established. It must be stressed that this was
the result of the aspirations and efforts of many people other
than the subsequent resident community. The faith and effort of
the English Sangha Trust over 20 years of difficulties have been
enormous. Also, the contribution to the monastery that has been
made in terms of spiritual resources by the Venerable Ajahn Chah
cannot be exaggerated. That his approach, worked out through years
of practice in the forests of North-East Thailand, could be so
immediately accessible to people of urban Britain is in some way
an indication of its profundity and universality.
A large amount of the material support for Chithurst Buddhist
Monastery and for this book has come from Thai supporters. For
them, supporting Buddhism is an obvious and delightful thing to
do. For us, it is equally obvious and delightful to express our
profound appreciation to the Buddha, to our teachers and to our
friends and good companions on the spiritual Path. It is from this
spirit of offering that this book has come; may those who wish
receive it so.
Ven. Sucitto Bhikkhu
Amaravati Buddhist Centre
A NOTE ON THE TEXT
Cittaviveka was first published 1983 and has gone through
several editions and some modifications since then. The book was not
originally conceived purely as a collection of talks on Buddhism,
but as textual and pictorial representation of Chithurst Buddhist
Monastery. Hence, some narrative pieces are included.
HOW THE BUDDHA CAME TO SUSSEX
A prologue by Ajahn Sucitto.
SUMMER OF 1976, Ajahn Sumedho requested permission from his
teacher, Venerable Ajahn Chah of Wat Pah Pong Monastery in
North-East Thailand, to visit his ageing parents in California. He
had not seen them since leaving America in 1964, weary of the West
and drawn by an interest in Chinese studies and Eastern religion
to volunteer for service with the Peace Corps in Sabah, Borneo.
World-weariness and an interest in Eastern religion have a way of
breeding good bhikkhus, and it was not long before he became
[See Note 1]
living under the guidance of a meditation teacher, Venerable Ajahn
Chah, in a forest monastery in Ubon Province, Thailand.
Time flowed by with its own teaching: one who endured the
hardships and trials of the dhutanga monasteries
[See Note 2]
naturally acquired inner strength and patience, even without the
sometimes aggravating, sometimes playful, and frequently
awe-inspiring teaching methods of a master such as Ajahn Chah. The
teaching was a whole training in 'letting go', in giving oneself
up to the routines, the Vinaya [monastic discipline], the simple
austerity of the food, clothing and shelter that were offered, and
to the will of the teacher. Ajahn Chah, with compassion and
notorious humour, would tease and frustrate his disciples out of
their self-conceit, and those who really wanted to be delivered
from their selfishness placed themselves, resignedly at first, but
eventually with gratitude and devotion, under his guidance for a
minimum period of five years.
After seven Rains
[See Note 3],
Sumedho was allowed to go off on his own, and he wandered in India
for five months, keeping to the strict Vinaya training of dhutanga
bhikkhus no money, no storing of food, and one meal per day, to
be eaten out of the alms bowl before noon. Somehow in India,
living on faith, it worked, and the respect for the tradition that
this instilled in Venerable Sumedho encouraged him to return to
Ajahn Chah and offer himself up, body and mind, to serve his
teacher. Ajahn Chah's response is not recorded it was probably
no more than a wry smile or a grunt but in his eighth year,
Venerable Sumedho was given the task of establishing a monastery
for Western bhikkhus in a haunted forest a few kilometres from Wat
Pah Pong, known as Bung Wai.
After having made the necessary initial mistakes, he became the
Ajahn of a monastery that has since developed into something of a
showpiece in the forest tradition. Thai people local villagers
at first, and subsequently more cosmopolitan folk from Bangkok
were impressed by the presence of Western bhikkhus who had given
up the wealth, university education and conveniences of Europe and
America to live a sweat-soaked life that was austere, even by the
rustic tastes of North-East Thailand. Accordingly, the monastery,
Wat Pah Nanachat ('International Forest Monastery'), became well
supported and acquired a wealth of sponsorship that far exceeded
the expectations of its Ajahn. More importantly, within a couple
of years the modest foundation of four bhikkhus swelled to a
sizeable group of bhikkhus, samaneras, por kaos and
[See Note 4].
It was at this time, in his tenth year as a bhikkhu, that Ajahn
Sumedho made a visit to America to see his parents, at his
father's request. On the way back to Thailand, he stopped off in
London and, as the Thai temple there was rather crowded, he
decided to use a telephone number given to him by one Venerable
Paρρavaddho Bhikkhu. This put him in touch with George Sharp,
Chairman of the English Sangha Trust and thereby custodian of the
empty Hampstead Buddhist Vihara
[See Note 5].
Venerable Paρρavaddho had been the Senior Incumbent of the Vihara
between 1957 and 1962, having succeeded the founder of the Trust,
Venerable Kapilavaddho. After an incumbency of five years,
Venerable Paρρavaddho had felt an interest in deepening his
practice by living in the traditional forest environment of
meditating bhikkhus, and had gone to Thailand to live under the
guidance of Venerable Ajahn Maha Boowa. Ajahn Maha Boowa, like
Ajahn Chah, stressed the importance of meditation, Vinaya and
simplicity of life-style, and he also had a very fine forest
monastery in North-East Thailand.
The English Sangha Trust, the stewards and owners of the Vihara,
had been established in 1956 with the express aim of providing a
suitable residence for bhikkhus in England. By 1972, this aim had
not been achieved, and it was time to consider why. In some
people's minds, in fact, it now seemed an impossibility.
There were numerous views and opinions on this matter, but the
chairman was drawn to consider the nature of the environment and
the life-style of the bhikkhus. Several of the incumbents had been
gifted Dhamma teachers, but none of them had experience of the
traditional bhikkhu life, with its training conventions and
mendicant relationship with the laity. So Mr. Sharp had begun
corresponding with Venerable Paρρavaddho, who had taken up that
very life-style and obviously found it preferable to the
'progressive' atmosphere of Western Buddhism. In 1974, this
correspondence had resulted in an invitation from the Trust to
Venerable Ajahn Maha Boowa and Venerable Paρρavaddho to visit
Hampstead. Their presence was so inspiring that there was some
hope that Venerable Paρρaavaddho might remain in England,
accompanied by other forest bhikkhus.
After Ajahn Sumedho's visit in 1976, Mr. Sharp went out to
North-East Thailand himself to visit the forest monasteries and
make a further request to the two meditation teachers to send
forest bhikkhus to England. Venerable Ajahn Maha Boowa, perhaps
because he had visited the Hampstead Vihara and seen all the
difficulties that lay ahead in a country where people were
ignorant of the bhikkhus' discipline and the relationship between
Sangha and laity was rather doubtful of the idea. The Vihara, a
town house opposite a pub on a main road in North London, didn't
seem suited for forest monks. Ajahn Chah, however, decided to
visit in 1977, and when he came he brought Ajahn Sumedho with him.
Perhaps it was just another of Ajahn Chah's tests to make his
disciples 'let go', but as a result of the visit, he left Ajahn
Sumedho at Hampstead with three other of his Western disciples, to
stay until more suitable forest premises became available. The
daily life was conducted in a manner that was based on the
monastic routine of the forest monastery, with morning and evening
chanting, a daily alms round [pindapada] and instruction
to lay visitors to the Vihara.
It was not an easy time for the bhikkhus apart from culture
shock and the sudden cramping of their environment, there was a
lot of confusion as to the role of the Vihara, and how the
tradition was to be altered, if at all, to fit English conditions.
Perhaps in this country it was not appropriate to live in forests
at all. In this atmosphere of doubt, it was only the bhikkhus'
training in endurance and obedience to the discipline and the
structure of the Sangha that preserved a degree of harmony.
In the spring of 1978, one of those small miracles happened that
stop the mind's rational expectations. Keeping to the apparently
pointless routine of going out for alms every day, as prescribed
by Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Sumedho encountered a lone jogger on
Hampstead Heath whose attention was arrested by the bhikkhus'
appearance. This jogger had acquired an overgrown forest in West
Sussex called Hammer Wood, out of the wish to restore it to its
former glory but he also understood that this was work for more
than one man and one lifetime. Although not a Buddhist, he had the
openness of mind to appreciate that an order of forest monks might
be the perfect wardens for his woodland. Subsequently, he attended
one of the ten-day meditation retreats that Ajahn Sumedho held at
the Oaken Holt Buddhist Centre near Oxford, and later made an
outright gift of the forest to the Sangha. This marvellous act of
generosity did of necessity involve a lot of legalities, as local
bye-laws prevented the construction of any permanent structures on
forest land, so in this situation the Sangha gratefully accepted
the invitation to stay instead at Oaken Holt for the 'Rains' of
1978 and let the Trust sort things out.
Early in 1979 Ajahn Chah was invited to England to see how his
disciples were making out; it was also about this time that George
Sharp, hearing that a large house near Hammer Wood was up for
sale, agreed to purchase it. This was Chithurst House, and its
purchase was a gamble that did not meet with unanimous approval.
Buying the property had necessitated selling the Vihara and the
adjacent town house whose rent had provided the basis for support
for the Sangha in order to purchase an unsurveyed and ramshackle
mansion. In May, Ajahn Chah arrived, somewhat disturbed by rumours
of his disciples' activities, to find a monastic community that
actually had nowhere to live. The new owners allowed the Sangha to
use the Vihara for a couple of months to receive the Venerable
Ajahn and to effect their move. In this atmosphere of insecurity,
Ajahn Chah added one more doubt by intimating that he was going to
take Ajahn Sumedho back to Thailand. While the Sangha members
watched their minds, he went off to America for a visit and there
was nothing else to do but go ahead. On 22nd June 1979, having
bundled as much as we could into a removal van, we left London for
Chithurst House really was a mess. Small work parties sent down
earlier had done some preliminary work on clearing the grounds,
but they had been denied access to the main house. The owner had
let the place run to seed: uncleared gutters had broken and
spilled water over the walls so that dry rot had spread. As things
had broken down they had been abandoned; when we moved in, only
four of the twenty or so rooms were still in use. The electricity
had blown, the roof leaked, the floors were rotten and there was
only one cold-water tap for washing. The house was full of junk:
all kinds of bric-a-brac from pre-war days. The outbuildings were
crumbling, roofs stoved in by fallen trees. The cesspit had not
been emptied for twenty-five years. The gardens were overgrown: a
fine walled fruit garden was a chest high sea of nettles. Over
thirty abandoned cars protruded through the brambles that
smothered the vicinity of the old coach-house.
But as we started to scrape through the mess, it felt all right.
The situation left no alternatives: for better or worse, opinion
was polarised and those who disagreed left. We had the support of
the Arama Fund a trust established by Venerable Paρρavaddho to
help found a monastery in the West which purchased the lovely
meadows around the house. So the omens were good.
A stir of publicity initiated by the BBC programme 'The Buddha
Comes to Sussex' brought us a lot of attention a mixed blessing,
as this gave rise to the 'invasion fears' of a body of local
opinion that proved awkward later. But at first it was enormous
fun. The summer was fine, we had a steady influx of volunteer
labour, and we all worked hard. We were loaned a marquee by a
local Buddhist businessman, which served as a kitchen and dining
hall. The weeds and debris in the grounds were attacked, temporary
showers installed, drainage cleared and work begun on the kitchen.
The community for Vassa [the 'Rains' retreat] consisted of six
bhikkhus, two samaneras, eight male anagarikas, four women in
training to become anagarikas and three or four lay people for
various periods of time. It was a spiritual refuge that gradually
took on a monastic form.
In September, the women were given a separate place to live when a
beautiful little cottage adjacent to Hammer Wood was rented for
their use. About a year after their ordination as anagarikas in
October, it was purchased with an estate that actually forms the
ecological heart of the forest.
Also in October our two samaneras were given Upasampada
[See Note 6]
by Venerable Dr. Saddhatissa, using the River Thames as a sima
boundary. So by the winter, we had a 'monastery' and a 'nunnery',
and a sizeable group of bhikkhus going out for non-existent alms
This spectacle must have been more alarming than we thought, and
at first there was a lot of mistrust and reserve in the minds of
local people, who tended to bracket any Eastern religion in the
category of cults of idol worshippers following strange or even
worse no gods. The discipline, with its emphasis on harmlessness
and modesty, again helped us out where no amount of teaching of
Buddhist Philosophy would have done. Our neighbouring farmer, for
example, had been impressed that, although we were not going to
kill the rabbits that live on our property and invaded his fields,
we went to the trouble and expense of building a rabbit fence to
keep them in. It was our effect on the environment and our
neighbours that finally made the district council grant Chithurst
House monastic status, with the freedom to train bhikkhus and nuns
and live the monastic life in its conventional way.
This permission came in March 1981; meanwhile, the monastery had
established itself in other ways. In the summer of 1979 we
constructed a kitchen but we shivered through the winter wearing
caps, scarves and woollen underwear until the wood-burning stove
that was to heat the house arrived in March 1980. Work continued
throughout that year, during which time one-half of the house was
gutted from basement to top floor. Its rotten floors, doors and
window frames were removed and burnt, so that we could create a
new Shrine Room.
The second winter saw a halt in the work programme, as available
funds ran out. The monastery is totally dependent on donations,
which tend to dry up in the winter. Ajahn Sumedho decided that
this would be the perfect time for a monastic retreat, and this is
the pattern that has established itself as a splendid yearly
opportunity for a quiet period of intensive practice. At the end
of the monastic retreat in February 1981, the Buddha finally came
to Sussex in the form of a half-ton Buddha image sent by a
generous lay supporter from Thailand. This was a cheering sign,
and work began with renewed vigour. In the evening before Asalha
Puja began the Rains of 1981, the new Shrine Room, dominated by
this radiant image, was finished.
For that Rains, at last, the community had a long break. Work had
thus far been the major practice at Chithurst. Despite a couple of
brief retreats, by and large the preoccupations were technical and
material rather than scriptural or contemplative. Sometimes work
would go on well into the night to complete a project. One time,
the dam by the cottage showed signs of breaking up so, whatever,
it had to be fixed as quickly as possible. People would get
exhausted and complain about not being able to meditate, but for
the most part they understood that it was a trial period, a
changing condition that, like any other, could afford insight into
the Four Noble Truths once the situation was accepted. It was
actually a very good time for practice: good Vinaya, good
teaching, good support and a stable Sangha. One can even imagine
that in the future people will be talking about 'the good old days
when the going was tough'.
A sima boundary, defining a consecrated area for ordinations and
official Sangha functions, was established by Venerable
Anandamaitreya on 3rd June 1981 in the monastery grounds where (at
times, in a teepee!) we have held the fortnightly recitations of
the discipline the Patimokkha.
Fittingly, a stone was set into the earth with the straightforward
inscription Vinayo Sasanassa Ayu ('Vinaya discipline is the life
of the religion'). The other principal use of the sima for
ordinations was made possible by Venerable Anandamaitreya on the
afternoon of its consecration, when he conferred thera
sammati the authority of an upahjjaya
[See Note 7]
on Venerable Sumedho. On July 16th three anagarikas were ordained
as bhikkhus there, bringing the total up to eleven. With this
number it became possible to move people around, and the Ajahn was
able to respond to a request for a branch monastery to be
established at Harnham in Northumberland (opened 23rd. June).
This monastery, originally an old farm-workers cottage, also grew
in its next four years, until for the Vassa of 1987, there were
five bhikkhus and two anagarikas in residence. Currently (1992),
they are hard at work converting an adjacent building into a
larger Dhamma centre for the North of England and the Scottish
This is one project among many for a Sangha that has diffused
throughout Britain, as it and its support has grown. Local
Buddhists set up a small monastery in Devon in 1983, which now
acts as a centre for that region; and in 1984, the Amaravati
Buddhist Centre was established in Hertfordshire as a national
centre, on the initiative of the English Sangha Trust.
An important consideration in the creation of Amaravati was the
provision of more facilities for lay people. Until this time, the
Sangha generally travelled away from the monastery on invitation
to teach, and retreats almost always were held in hired premises.
This meant that we were using accommodation that was not
specifically designed with Dhamma practice in mind, and which
therefore lacked the supportive qualities of a monastery; it also
meant that retreatants had to cover the (frequently high) costs of
facilities that were intended for rather different activities.
For his part, Ajahn Sumedho had a few further ideas in mind a
place that had a meeting hall large enough to hold the many people
wishing to come to public talks and special occasions; enough
living space for large numbers of guests to stay with the
community and participate in their life of practice; and suitable
residences for the increasing number of men and women asking for
the Going Forth into the Holy Life.
Out of these wishes and a few minor miracles, Amaravati was born.
Formally opened under the auspices of Venerable Anandamaitreya and
Tan Chao Khun Paρρananda in May 1985, Amaravati 'The Deathless
Realm' occupies the grounds and the spacious wooden buildings of
the former St. Margaret's School in Great Gaddesden. The centre
has a monastic community of about forty men and women under the
guidance of Ajahn Sumedho, and any number of guests on site living
as part of the community, taking part in organised retreats in the
separate retreat facility, or there for a public talk, festival or
children's class. Once a year in the same way that Chithurst has
the bhikkhu ordinations Amaravati is the setting for women to
ask for the Going Forth as Ten-Precept Nuns (siladharas).
So, with a mendicant lifestyle now available for women, the Holy
Life is developing in conventional form as well as in numbers.
And even as we are coming to terms with the possibilities that
Amaravati has created, another branch monastery has opened and is
flourishing in Stokes Valley, New Zealand (near Wellington);
branch monasteries have been established in Kandersteg,
Switzerland and Sezze Romano, Italy; and an invitation is being
taken up to open a vihara in the United States, in California.
Relating to all this is awesome at times, because the life of the
Sangha is nourished by something far larger than the energies of
individual monks and nuns. We realise that Buddhism is providing
for a spiritual need in a large number of Western people, although
its conventions are undemonstrative and our Sangha is quite young.
With the sense of responsibility that this creates in the minds of
the bhikkhus and siladharas there is a lot of effort going into
supporting the faith of lay people, and into keeping the monastic
training firm enough to make us fit for such responsibility.
People living the household life have developed their practice in
like fashion, and make full use of the monasteries. In fact, of
the few ceremonial occasions that we have during the year, the
largest is the Kathina, which can only be organised by lay people.
Moreover, the Kathina is simply an occasion for offering
requisites to the bhikkhus and yet this ceremony draws an
attendance that far exceeds our normal number of visitors. People
seem to get a lot of joy out of giving to those who are
'worthy of gifts'
[See Note 8].
To find happiness in giving rather than gaining something is quite
a turn-around in many people's attitude towards life, a change of
heart that is one of the blessings of a mature and sensitive
relationship between Sangha and laity.
What we have all realised, to our surprise, is the extent to which
people are willing to live and support the Holy Life. The
difficulty hitherto has been finding places where people could
live as monks and nuns, and it wasn't until that was given highest
priority that the Sangha was able to survive. Rather than try to
find ways to adapt the Sangha to Western conditions, Ajahn Sumedho
considered it more important to establish the monastic life
according to Vinaya and tradition, and allow it to adapt gradually
the way that it has done over the centuries in Asian countries.
As always, a high standard of conduct is maintained; and with the
native familiarity of most members of the Sangha with the ways of
society in the West, people are finding the guidance and example
of the community very relevant for their present circumstances.
Meanwhile at Chithurst, the forest is gradually being restored
through the planting of thousands of native hardwood trees. It
offers an ideal environment for meditation huts, and bhikkhus now
may spend the entire Vassa living in the forest and receiving
their daily alms food from local villagers. Several tudong walks
(long-distance pilgrimages) have taken place, including one by the
nuns in 1984 to move from Chithurst to Amaravati; this practice
seems set to establish itself in the West, as it has done in
However, living in the Dhamma makes one's outlook practical and
immediate; the future is the unknown, and for now we can only
practise what we do know and aspire to live with a quiet heart.
Buddhist monk. Ajahn is a romanisation of the Thai rendition of
the Pali word 'acariya', meaning teacher or guide. In monastic
usage it implies authority; e.g. junior bhikkhus are expected to
train for at least five years under their Ajahn. It is also
commonly spelt 'achaan'.
the seniority of a bhikkhu is determined by the number of yearly
monsoon-season retreats that he has spent in the robes.
4. Whereas a bhikkhu is a fully ordained monk who follows 227
precepts, a samanera is a 10-precept novice (who nevertheless
wears the same ochre-coloured robes as the bhikkhus). In Thailand,
the samanera stage is often reserved for those too young for full
ordination. Por kao and maechee are 8-precept monastics, male and
female respectively; in England, the Pali terms anagarika and
anagarika are used.
acceptance into the order of bhikkhus (ordination'). This must
take place within a prescribed boundary, called a sima. The late
Ven. Dr. Saddhatissa was the senior Theravadin bhikkhu in Britain
at the time, and Senior Incumbent of the London Buddhist Vihara.
upajjhaya, or preceptor:
a bhikkhu of more than ten Rains who has the authority to confer
full monastic ordination.
8. This phrase is found in the traditional Theravadin morning and
evening chanting, a characteristic of a Sangha which is sincere in
AND SILA PRACTICE
He who with trusting heart takes a
Buddha as his guide, and the Truth,
and the Order...When a man with trusting heart takes
upon himself the precepts ... that is a
sacrifice better than open largesse, better
than giving perpetual alms, better than the
gift of dwelling places, better than
Digha Nikaya V - 145, 146
WOULD LIKE TO SAY a few words about the uses of conventional
religion. Of course, I am only speaking from my own experience as
a Buddhist monk, although I would say that in this respect one can
recognise the values of religious convention in whatever form.
Nowadays there is a tendency to think that religious convention
and form are no longer necessary. There is a kind of hope that, if
you can just be mindful and know yourself, then that is all you
need to do. Anyhow, that is how we would like it, isn't it? Just
be mindful throughout the day, throughout the night, whatever you
are doing; drinking your whisky, smoking your marijuana cigarette,
picking a safe open, mugging someone you met in Soho as long as
it's done mindfully, it's all right.
There is a brilliant Buddhist philosopher in Thailand who is quite
old now, but I went to stay at his monastery a few years ago. I
was coming from Ajahn Chah's monastery, so I asked him about the
Vinaya the rules of the monastic order and how
important these were in the practice of meditation and
'Well,' he said, 'only mindfulness - that's all you need. Just be
mindful, and everything is all right, you know. Don't worry about
those other things.'
And I thought: 'That sounds great, but I wonder why Ajahn Chah
emphasises all these rules?'
I had great respect for Ajahn Chah, so when I went back I told him
what the philosopher-bhikkhu had told me. Ajahn Chah said, 'That's
"true", but it's not "right"
[See Note 1]
Now we are prone to having blind attachments, aren't we? For
example, say you're locked up in a foul, stinking prison cell and
the Buddha comes and says, 'Here's the key. All you have to do is
take it and put it in the hole there underneath the door handle,
turn it to the right, turn the handle, open the door, walk out,
and you're free.'... But you might be so used to being locked up
in prison that you didn't quite understand the directions and you
say, 'Oh, the Lord has given me this key' and you hang it on the
wall and pray to it every day. It might make your stay in prison a
little more happy; you might be able to endure all the hardships
and the stench of your foul-smelling cell a little better, but
you're still in the cell because you haven't understood that it
wasn't the key in itself that was going to save you. Due to lack
of intelligence and understanding, you just grasped the key
blindly. That's what happens in all religion: we just grasp the
key, to worship it, pray to it ... but we don't actually learn to
So then the next time the Buddha comes and says, 'Here's the key',
you might be disillusioned and say, 'I don't believe any of this.
I've been praying for years to that key and not a thing has
happened! That Buddha is a liar!' And you take the key and throw
it out of the window. That's the other extreme, isn't it? But
you're still in the prison cell so that hasn't solved the
Anyway, a few years later the Buddha comes again and says, 'Here's
the key,' and this time you're a little more wise and you
recognise the possibility of using it effectively, so you listen a
little more closely, do the right thing and get out.
The key is like religious convention, like Theravada Buddhism:
it's only a key, only a form it's not an end in itself. We have
to consider, to contemplate how to use it. What is it for? We also
have to expend the energy to get up, walk over to the door, insert
the key into the lock, turn it in the right direction, turn the
knob, open the door and walk out. The key is not going to do that
for us; it's something we have to comprehend for ourselves. The
convention itself cannot do it because it's not capable of making
the effort; it doesn't have the vigour or anything of its own
other than that which you put into it just like the key can't do
anything for itself. Its usefulness depends on your efforts and
Some modern day religious leaders tend to say, 'Don't have
anything to do with any religious convention. They're all like the
walls of prison cells' and they seem to think that maybe the way
is to just get rid of the key. Now if you're already outside the
cell, of course you don't need the key. But if you're still
inside, then it does help a bit!
So I think you have to know whether you're in or out; then you'll
know what to do. If you still find you're full of doubt,
uncertainty, fear, confusion mainly doubt is the real sign if
you're unsure of where you are, what to do or how to do anything;
if you're unsure of how to get out of the prison cell then the
wisest thing to do, rather than throwing away keys, or just
collecting them, is to take one key and figure out how to use it.
That's what we mean by meditation practice. The practice of the
Dhamma is learning to take a particular key and use it to open the
door and walk out. Once you're out, then you know. There's no more
Now, we can start from the high kind of attitude that mindfulness
is enough - but then what do we mean by that? What is mindfulness,
really? Is it actually what we believe it to be? We see people who
say, 'I'm being very mindful,' and they're doing something in a
very methodical, meticulous way. They're taking in each bite of
food and they're lifting, lifting, lifting; chewing, chewing,
chewing; swallowing, swallowing, swallowing....
So you think, 'He eats very mindfully, doesn't he?', but he may
not be mindful at all, actually. He's just doing it in a very
concentrated way: he's concentrating on lifting, on touching, on
chewing and on swallowing. We confuse mindfulness with
Like robbing a bank: we think, 'Well, if you rob a bank mindfully,
it's all right. I'm very mindful when I rob banks, so there's no
[See Note 2].
You have to have good powers of concentration to be a good bank
robber. You have to have mindfulness in the sense of fear
conditions, of being aware of dangers and possibilities a mind
that's on the alert for any kind of movement or sign of danger or
threat ... and then concentrating your mind on breaking the safe
open and so forth.
But in the Buddhist sense, mindfulness sati is always combined
with wisdom paρρa. Sati-sampajaρρa and sati-paρρa: they use
those two words together in Thailand. They mean, 'mindfulness and
clear comprehension' and 'mindfulness-wisdom'. So I might have an
impulse to rob a bank - 'I need some money so I'll go rob the
National Westminster Bank' but the sati-paρρa says, 'No, don't
act on that impulse!' Paρρa recognises the bad result if I acted
on such an impulse, the kammic result; it confers the
understanding that such a thing is wrong, not right to do.
So there's full comprehension of that impulse, knowing it as just
an impulse and not-self, so that even though I might have the
desire to rob a bank, I'm not going to make neurotic problems for
myself out of worrying about those criminal tendencies. One
recognises that there is just an impulse in the mind that one
refrains from acting upon. Then one has a standard of virtue
sila always as a conventional foundation for living in the human
form in this society, with other beings, within this material
world a standard or guideline for both action and non-action.
The Five Precepts consist of not killing; not stealing; refraining
from wrong kinds of sexual activities; not lying or indulging in
false speech; and not taking drink or drugs that change
consciousness. These are the guidelines for sila.
Now, sila in Buddhism isn't a rigid, inflexible kind of standard
in which you're condemned to hell if you in any way modify
anything whatsoever as you have in that rigid, hard morality we
all associate with Victorian times. We all fear the prudish,
puritanical morality that used to exist, so that sometimes when
you say the word 'morality' now everybody shudders and thinks,
'Ugh, Victorian prude! He's probably some terrible moralistic
person who's afraid of life. We have to go out and experience
life. We don't want morality we want experience!'
So you see people going out and doing all kinds of things,
thinking that experience in itself is all that's necessary. But
there are some experiences which it's actually better not to have
especially if they're against the ordinary interpretation of the
For example, you might say, 'I really want to experience murdering
someone because my education in life won't be complete until I
have. My freedom to act spontaneously will be inhibited until I
actually experience murder.'
Some people might believe that ... well perhaps not so much for
murder, because that's a really heavy one but they do for other
things. They do everything they desire to do and have no standard
for saying 'No'.
'Don't ever say "no" to anything,' they say. 'Just say "yes" go
out and do it and be mindful of it, learn from it.... Experience
If you do that, you'll find yourself rather jaded, worn out,
confused, miserable, and wretched, even at a very young age. When
you see some of the pathetic cases I've seen young people who
went out and 'experienced everything' and you say, 'How old are
you? Forty?' And they say, 'No, actually, I'm twenty-one.'
It sounds good, doesn't it? 'Do everything you desire' - that's
what we'd like to hear. I would. It would be nice to do everything
I desire, never have to say 'No'. But then in a few years you also
begin to reflect that desires have no end. What you desire now,
you want something more than that next time, and there's no end to
it. You might be temporarily gratified, like when you eat too much
food and can't stand to eat another bite; then you look at the
most delicious gourmet preparations and you say, 'Oh, disgusting!'
But it's only momentary revulsion and it doesn't take long before
they start looking all right again.
In Thailand, Buddhism is an extremely tolerant kind of religion;
moralistic attitudes have never really developed there. This is
why people are sometimes upset when they go to Bangkok and hear
horrendous stories of child prostitution and corruption and so on.
Bangkok is the Sin City of the world these days. You say
'Bangkok', and everybody's eyes either light up or else they look
terribly upset and say: 'How can a Buddhist country allow such
terrible things to go on?'
But then, knowing Thailand, one recognises that, although they may
be a bit lax and loose on some levels, at least there isn't the
kind of militant cruelty there that you find in some other
countries where they line all the prostitutes up and shoot them,
and kill all the criminals in the name of their religion. In
Thailand one begins to appreciate that morality really has to come
from wisdom, not from fear.
So some Thai monks will teach morality on a less strict basis than
others. In the matter of the first precept, non-killing, I know a
monk who lives on the coast of the gulf of Thailand in an area
where there are a lot of pirates and fishermen, who are a very
rough, crude kind of people. Murder is quite common among them. So
this monk just tries to encourage them not to kill each other.
When these people come to the monastery, he doesn't go round
raising non-killing to the level of 'You shouldn't kill anything
not even a mosquito larva' because they couldn't accept that.
Their livelihood depends very much on fishing and the killing of
What I'm presenting isn't morality on a rigid standard or that's
too difficult to keep, but rather for you to reflect upon and use
so that you begin to understand it, and understand how to live in
a better way. If you start out taking too strict a position, you
either become very moralistic, puritanical, and attached, or else
you think you can't do it, so you don't bother you have no
standard at all.
Now the second precept is refraining from stealing. On the
coarsest level, say, you just refrain from robbing banks,
shop-lifting, and things like that. But then if you refine your
sila more, you refrain from taking things which have not been
given to you. As monks, we refrain even from touching things that
are not given to us. If we go into your home, we're not supposed
to go around picking up and looking at things, even though we have
no intention of taking them away with us. Even food has to be
offered directly to us: if you set it down and say, 'This is for
you,' if we stick to our rules, we're not supposed to eat it until
you offer it directly to us. That's a refinement of the precept to
not take anything that's not been given.
So there's the coarse aspect of just refraining from the grosser
things, like theft or burglary; and a more refined training a
way of training yourself.
I find this a very helpful monastic rule, because I was quite
heedless as a layman. Somebody would invite me to their home, and
I'd be looking at this, looking at that, touching this; going into
shops, I'd pick up this and that I didn't even know that it was
wrong or might annoy anybody. It was a habit. And then when I was
ordained as a monk, I couldn't do that any more, and I'd sit there
and feel this impulse to look at this and pick that up but I'd
have these precepts saying I couldn't do that.... And with food:
somebody would put food down and I'd just grab it and start
But through the monastic training you develop a much more graceful
way of behaving. Then you sit down, and after a while you don't
feel the urge to pick up things or grab hold of them. You can
wait. And then people can offer, which is much more beautiful way
of relating to things around you and to other people than
habitually grabbing, touching, eating and so on.
Then there's the third precept, about sexuality. The idea at the
present time is that any old kind of sexuality is experience, so
it's all right to do just so long as you're mindful! And
somehow, not having sexual relations is seen as some kind of
On the coarsest level, this precept means refraining from
adultery: from being unfaithful to your spouse. But then you can
refine that within marriage to where you are becoming more
considerate, less exploitive, less obsessed with sexuality, so
you're no longer using it merely for bodily pleasure.
You can in fact, refine it right down to celibacy, to where you
are living like a Buddhist monk and no kind of sexual activity is
allowed. This is the range, you see, within the precepts.
A lot of people think that the celibate monastic life must be a
terrible repression. But it's not, because sexual urges are fully
accepted and understood as being natural urges, only they're not
acted upon. You can't help having sexual desires. You can't say,
'I wont have any more of that kind of desire. . . .' Well you can
say it, but you still do! If you're a monk and you think you
shouldn't have anything like that then you become a very
frightened and repressed kind of monk.
I've heard some monks say: 'I'm just not worthy of the robe.
People shouldn't give me alms food. I'll have to disrobe because
I've got so many bad thoughts going through my mind.' The robe
doesn't care about your thoughts! Don't make a problem out of it.
We all have nasty thoughts going through our minds when we're in
these robes just like everybody else. But we train ourselves not
to speak or act upon them. When we've taken the Patimokkha
discipline, we accept those things, recognise them, are fully
conscious of them, and let them go and they cease. Then, after a
while, one finds a great peacefulness in one's mind as a result of
the celibate life.
Sexual life, on the other hand, is very exciting. If you're really
upset, frightened, bored or restless, then your mind very easily
goes into sexual fantasies. Violence is very exciting, too, so
often sex and violence are put together, as in rape and things of
that nature. People like to look at those things at the cinema. If
they made a film about a celibate monk keeping the discipline,
very few people would appreciate that! It would be a very boring
film. But if they made a film about a monk who breaks all the
precepts, they'd make a fortune!
The fourth precept is on speech. On the coarsest level, if you're
a big liar, say, just keep this precept by refraining from telling
big lies. If you take that precept, then at least every time you
tell a big lie you'd know it, wouldn't you? But if you don't take
any precept, sometimes you can tell big lies and not even know
you're doing it. It becomes a habit.
If you refine this from the coarse position, you learn to speak
and use communication in a very careful and responsible way.
You're not just chattering, babbling, gossiping, exaggerating;
you're not being terribly clever or using speech to hurt or insult
or disparage other people in any intentional way. You begin to
recognise how very deeply we do affect one another with the things
we say. We can ruin whole days for each other by saying unkind
The fifth precept is refraining from alcoholic drinks and drugs
which change consciousness. Now that can be on the level of just
refraining from drunkenness that's what everybody likes to think
it means! But then the sober side of you says maybe you shouldn't
have a drink of any kind; not even a glass of wine with your
dinner. It's a standard to reflect upon and use.
If you've committed yourself to these precepts, then you know when
you've broken them. So they're guidelines to being a little more
alert, a little more awake and also more responsible about how you
live. If we don't have standards, then we just tend to do what we
feel like doing, or what someone else feels like doing.
I have a very natural kind of moral nature. I've never really
liked being immoral. But when I lived in Berkeley, California,
because the more clever, intelligent and experienced beings around
me that I greatly admired seemed to fully commend immoralities, I
thought: 'Well, maybe I should do that too!' Certainly, when
you're looking up to somebody, you want to be like them. I got
myself into a terrible mess, because people can be very
convincing. They can make murder sound like a sacred act!
So sila is a guide, a way of anchoring yourself in
refraining from unskillful actions with your body and speech, both
in regard to yourself and to the other beings around you. It's not
a kind of absolute standard. I'm not telling you that if you kill
a worm in your garden you'll be reborn in the next 10,000
lifetimes as a worm in order to frighten you into not killing.
There's no wisdom in that. If you're just conditioned, then you're
just doing it because you're afraid you'll go to hell. You
wouldn't really understand; you've not reflected and watched and
really used your wisdom to observe how things are.
If you're frightened of action and speech then you'll just become
neurotic; but, on the other hand, if you're not frightened enough
and think you can do anything, then you'll also become confused
Sigmund Freud had all kinds of people coming to him with terrible
hang-ups and, as sexual repression was the ordinary thing in
Europe and America at the time, he thought: 'Well, if we just stop
repressing, then we won't have these problems any more. We'll
become free, happy, well-integrated personalities.' But nowadays
there's no restriction and you still get hysterical, miserable,
neurotic people! So it's obvious that these are two extremes
springing from a lack of mindfulness in regard to the natural
condition of sexuality.
We have to recognise both what's exciting and what's calming.
Buddhist meditation why is this so boring? Repetitions and
chanting ... why don't we sing arias? I could do it! I've always
wanted to be an opera singer. But on the conventional level of
propriety, or when I'm sitting on the teacher's high seat doing my
duty, then I chant in monotone as best I can. If you really
concentrate on monotone chanting, it's tranquillising.
One night, we were sitting in our forest monastery in Thailand
meditating, when I heard an American pop song that I really hated
when I was a layman. It was being blasted out by one of those
medicine sellers who go to all the villages in big vans with
loudspeakers that play this kind of music in order to attract the
villagers to come and buy their quacky medicines. The wind was
blowing in the right direction and the sound of 'Tell Laura I Love
Her' seemed right here in the meditation hall itself. I hadn't
heard American pop music for so many years, so while this smarmy
sentimental song was playing I was actually beginning to cry! And
I began to recognise the tremendous emotional pull of that kind of
music. If you don't really understand it, it grabs your heart and
you get caught up in the excitement and emotion of it. This is the
effect of music when you're not mindful.
So our chanting is in monotone, because if you concentrate on it
it's not going to carry you away into sentimental feelings, into
tears or ecstasy. Instead, you feet tranquil, peaceful, serene.
[See Note 3]
also tranquillises, because it has a gentle rhythm subtle, not
exciting. And though the monastic life itself is boring in the
sense of lacking romance, adventure and excitement, it is
tranquillising, peaceful, calming....
Therefore, reflect in your life upon what excites and what calms,
so that you begin to understand how to use Paρρa: your wisdom
faculty. As Buddhists, we do this so that we know what's affecting
us. We understand the forces of nature with which we have to
co-exist. We can't control everything so that nothing violent or
exciting ever happens around us but we can understand it. We can
put forward some effort towards understanding and learning from
our lives as we live them.
1. That is to say, although the statement is quite correct, taken
out of context it could be used - as this talk points out - to
justify any action. Similarly, the meticulous 'mindfulness
practice' described later can also be used unskilfully. Ajahn
Sumedho is not criticising these views, but pointing to the danger
of attaching to any view.
action which comes from habitual impulse, volitions, or natural
energies, leading to an inevitable reaction. See also 'Kamma and
a widely used meditation technique. One composes the mind by
focussing attention on the inhalation and exhalation of breath.
Truly, wisdom springs from meditation;
without meditation, wisdom wanes;
having known these two paths
of progress and decline,
let one conduct oneself
so that wisdom may increase.
HAVE BEEN DISCUSSING the First Noble Truth suffering which
becomes increasingly apparent as you sit here contemplating your
own body and mind. Just be aware of what happens: you can see that
when good thoughts pass by, or physical pleasure, there's
happiness, and when there's pain or negativity, there's despair.
So we can see we are always habitually trying to attain, or
maintain or get rid, of conditions. The Second Noble Truth is that
of being aware of the arising of the three kinds of desire that we
have desire for sense pleasure, for becoming, or for getting rid
of something and how this arises according to conditions. The
penetration of the Third Noble Truth is to see how that which
arises has a cessation. We become aware of the cessation, the
letting go, and thus develop the Fourth Noble Truth, the Truth of
the Eightfold Path right understanding, right intention, right
speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right
mindfulness and right concentration in other words, the path of
To be aware we have to use skilful means, because at first we're
mystified. We tend to conceive awareness and try to become aware,
thinking that awareness is something we have to get or attain or
try to develop; but this very intention, this very
conceptualisation makes us heedless! We keep trying to become
mindful, rather than just being aware of the mind as it tries to
become and tries to attain, following the three kinds of desire
that cause us suffering.
The practice of 'letting go' is very effective for minds obsessed
by compulsive thinking: you simplify your meditation practice down
to just two words 'Ietting go' rather than try to develop this
practice and then develop that; and achieve this and go into that,
and understand this, and read the Suttas, and study the Abhidhamma
... and then learn Pali and Sanskrit ... then the Madhyamika and
the Prajρa Paramita ... get ordinations in the Hinayana, Mahayana,
Vajrayana ... write books and become a world renowned authority on
Buddhism. Instead of becoming the world's expert on Buddhism and
being invited to great International Buddhist Conferences, just
'let go, let go, let go'.
I did nothing but this for about two years every time I tried to
understand or figure things out, I'd say 'let go, let go' until
the desire would fade out. So I'm making it very simple for you,
to save you from getting caught in incredible amounts of
suffering. There's nothing more sorrowful than having to attend
International Buddhist Conferences! Some of you might have the
desire to become the Buddha of the age, Maitreya, radiating love
throughout the world but instead, I suggest just being an
earthworm, letting go of the desire to radiate love throughout the
world. Just be an earthworm who knows only two words 'let go,
let go, let go'. You see, ours is the Lesser Vehicle, the Hinayana,
so we only have these simple, poverty-stricken practices!
The important thing in meditation practice is to be constant and
resolute in the practice, determined to be enlightened. This is
not to be conceited or foolish, but resolute, even when the going
is rough. Remind yourself of Buddha-Dhamma-Sangha, and stay with
it letting go of despair, letting go of anguish, letting go of
pain, of doubt, of everything that arises and passes that we
habitually cling to and identify with. Keep this 'letting go' like
a constant refrain in your mind, so it just pops up on its own no
matter where you are.
At first we have to obsess our minds with this, because our minds
are obsessed with all kinds of useless things with worries about
this and that, with doubt, with anger, vindictiveness, jealousy,
fear, dullness and stupidity of various kinds. We have obsessive
minds that are obsessed with things that cause us pain and lead us
into difficulties in life. Our society has taught us how to fill
up the mind, jam it full of ideas, prejudices, regrets,
anticipations and expectations it is a society for filling up
vessels. Look at the book stores here in Oxford, filled up with
all the information you could possibly want to know, published in
very nice bindings with pictures and illustrations.... Or we can
fill our minds by watching TV, going to the cinema, reading the
newspapers.... That's a good way to fill your mind up but look
at what's printed in the newspapers! It appeals to people's lower
instincts and drives all about violence, wars, corruption and
perversities, and gossip.
All this has its effect on the mind. As long as our minds are
obsessed with facts, symbols and conventions, then if we stuff any
more into it, it becomes jam-packed full and we have to go crazy.
We can go out and get drunk it's a way of letting go! What do
you think pubs are for? There we can dare to say all the things we
want to say but don't have the nerve to say when sober. We can be
irrational, be silly, laugh and cavort, 'because I was drunk, I
was under the influence of alcohol'.
When we don't understand the nature of things, we are very
suggestible. You see in our society how suggestion works on
teenagers. Now it's the punk-rock generation everybody in that
generation thinks of themselves as punks and acts like it.
Fashions are all suggestion for women you are not beautiful
unless you are dressed in a certain way. Cinema films suggest all
kinds of delights to the senses, and we think maybe we should try
that, maybe we are missing something if we aren't experiencing
it.... It's so bad now that nobody knows what is beautiful or ugly
any more. Somebody says that harmony is cacophony, and if you
don't know and are still subject to suggestion, you believe that.
Even if you don't believe at first, it begins to work on your mind
so you start thinking: 'Maybe it is that way, maybe immorality is
morality, and morality is immorality.'
We feel obliged to know all kinds of things to understand and to
try to convince others. You hear my talks, you read books, and you
want to tell others about Buddhism you might even feel a bit
evangelical after the retreat but keep letting go of even the
desire to tell others. When we feel enthusiastic, we begin to
impose on other people; but in meditation we let go of the desire
to influence others until the right time for it occurs then it
happens naturally rather than as an aggressive ambition.
So you do the things that need to be done, and you let go. When
people tell you should read this book, and that book, take this
course and that course ... study Pali, the Abhidhamma ... go into
the history of Buddhism, Buddhist logic ... and on and on like
that... 'let go, let go, let go'. If you fill your mind with more
concepts and opinions, you are just increasing your ability to
doubt. It's only through learning how to empty the mind out that
you can fill it with things of value and learning how to empty a
mind takes a great deal of wisdom.
Here in this meditation retreat, the suggestions I am giving you
are for skilful means. The obsession of 'letting go' is a skilful
one as you repeat this over and over, whenever a thought arises,
you are aware of its arising. You keep letting go of whatever
moves but if it doesn't go, don't try to force it. This 'letting
go' practice is a way of clearing the mind of its obsessions and
negativity; use it gently, but with resolution. Meditation is a
skilful letting go, deliberately emptying out the mind so we can
see the purity of the mind cleaning it out so we can put the
right things in it.
You respect your mind, so you are more careful what you put in it.
If you have a nice house, you don't go out and pick up all the
filth from the street and bring it in, you bring in things that
will enhance it and make it a refreshing and delightful place.
If you are going to identify with anything, then don't identify
with mortal conditions. See what identification is investigate
your own mind to see clearly the nature of thought, of memory, of
sense consciousness, and of feeling as impermanent conditions.
Bring your awareness to the slower things, to the transiency of
bodily sensation; investigate pain and see it as a moving energy,
a changing condition. Emotionally, it seems permanent when you are
in pain, but that is just an illusion of the emotions let go of
it all. Even if you have insight, even if you understand
everything clearly let go of the insight.
When the mind is empty, say ' Who is it that lets go?' Ask the
question, try to find out who it is, what it is that lets go.
Bring up that not-knowing state with the word Who 'Who am I? Who
lets go?' A state of uncertainty arises; bring this up, allow it
to be . . . and there is emptiness, voidness, the state of
uncertainty when the mind just goes blank.
I keep stressing this right understanding, right attitude, right
intention, more towards simplifying your life so that you aren't
involved in unskilful and complex activities. So that you don't
live heedlessly, exploiting others and having no respect for
yourself or the people around you. Develop the Precepts as a
standard, and develop nekkhamma renunciation of that
which is unskilful or unnecessary and then mentally let go of
greed, let go of hatred, let go of delusion.
This is not being averse to these conditions; it is letting go of
them when you find you are attached. When you are suffering - 'Why
am I suffering? Why am I miserable?' Because you are clinging to
something! Find out what you are clinging to, to get to the
source. 'I'm unhappy because nobody loves me.' That may be true,
maybe nobody loves you, but the unhappiness comes from wanting
people to love you. Even if they do love you, you will still have
suffering if you think that other people are responsible for your
happiness or your suffering. Someone says, 'You are the greatest
person in the world!' and you jump for joy. Someone says, 'You
are the most horrible person I've met in my life!' and you get
depressed. Let go of depression, let go of happiness. Keep the
practice simple: live your life mindfully, morally, and have faith
in letting go.
It's important for you to realise that none of us are helpless
victims of fate but we are as long as we remain ignorant. As
long as you remain ignorant, you are a helpless victim of your
ignorance. All that is ignorant is born and dies, it is bound to
die that's all, it's caught in the cycle of death and rebirth.
And if you die, you will be reborn you can count on it. And the
more heedlessly you lead your life, the worse the rebirth.
So the Buddha taught a way to break the cycle, and that's through
awareness, through seeing the cycle rather than being attached to
it. When you let go of the cycle, then you are no longer harmed by
it. So you let go of the cycle, let go of birth and death, let go
of becoming. Letting go of desire is the development of the Third
Noble Truth which leads to the Eightfold Path.
LISTENING TO THE MIND
THIS FORM OF MEDITATION PRACTICE, listen inwardly and listen
carefully. To listen inwardly, regard the outside of things as
totally unimportant go beyond the concepts and thoughts; they
are not you. Listen to that which is around the words themselves,
the silence, the space.
Now, when you listen, what do you hear? Listen to these changing
things like it's somebody else talking, saying, 'I don't like this
or that. I'm bored, fed up; I want to go home.' Or listen to 'the
religious fanatic' or 'the cynic'; whatever the form or the
quality of the voice, we can still be aware of its changing
You can't have a permanent desire. In listening inwardly, until we
are listening all the time, we begin to experience emptiness.
Normally, we don't listen, and we think we are these voices,
creating terrible problems for ourselves by identifying with the
voices of desire. We think there is a permanent personality or
being, with permanent greed; but in meditation, we can see that
these voices arise out of the void they arise, and they pass
Following the teaching of the Buddha, the practice is to know the
known. To know what? What do Buddhists know? What does the 'One
Who Knows' know, anyway? The One Who Knows knows that these
changing conditions are not-self. There is not any eternal or
soul-like quality, no substance in these things that one could
call a permanent possession. The One Who Knows knows that if it
arises, it passes away. You don't have to know any more to be a
Being the Buddha means knowing by observing, not by believing the
Scriptures or me. See for yourself. Just try to find a condition
that arises that doesn't pass away. Is there something that's born
that doesn't die? Be that Buddha who knows, by putting energy into
experiencing your life here and now, not by getting lost in the
delusion of the idea of being Buddha 'I'm the Buddha; I know it
all.' Sometimes desire even takes the form of a Buddha. Actually,
there is no one who knows, and to conceive of being Buddha is not
just being Buddha.
The Theravadin talk about anatta, and the Mahayanists talk about
[See Note 1]
- they really mean the same thing. To experience anatta, one
investigates and sees that the clinging to the ego, to the
neuroses that we all have, to the thoughts, greed, hatred and
delusion, are all anatta. There is no self to be saved, just empty
conditions that arise out of the void and pass back into it with
no remainder. So we let things go, allow things to be as they are,
and they change quite naturally on their own. You don't have to
force them. If you're experiencing something unpleasant, you don't
have to annihilate it; it will go quite on its own. Self conceit
says, 'I don't like this condition. I've got to get rid of it,
wipe it out.' This creates a more complex situation than before
you're trying to push something away, bury your head in the ground
and say, 'Oh, its gone!' But that desire to get rid of
vibhava-tanha just creates the conditions for it to arise
again, because we haven't seen that it dies quite naturally.
Now we're sitting in a room full of kammic formations that we
conceive to be permanent personalities. We carry these around like
a conceptions bag', because on the conceptual level of thoughts
we regard each other as permanent personalities. How many things
do you carry around with you grudges against people,
infatuation, fears and things of the past? We can get upset just
by thinking of the name of someone who has caused us suffering
'How dare they do that, treat me like that!' over something that
happened twenty years ago! Some people spend most of their lives
carrying grudges around, so that they ruin the rest of their
But as mediators, we break through the pattern of memory. Instead
of remembering people and making them real, we see that, in the
moment, memory and bitterness are changing conditions; we see that
they are anicca, dukkha, anatta
[See Note 2]
. They are formed in time, just like the sand grains of the Ganges
River whether they are beautiful, ugly, black or white, sand
grains is all that they are.
So listen inwardly. Listen to the mind when you're starting to
experience pain in the body; bring up the voice that says, 'I
don't want this pain, when is the darned bell going to ring?'
Listen to the moaning, discontented voice or listen when you get
really high, 'Oh bliss, I feel so wonderful.' Listen to the
devata [angelic being] indulging in bliss and happiness, and
take the position of silent listener, making no preferences
between devatas and devilish things. And remember that if it's a
condition, it ends.
Recognise and let things come and go these are just kammic
conditions changing, so don't interfere. The tendency of the
modern mind is to think that there's some ogre lurking way down
deep inside, just waiting for an unguarded moment to overwhelm you
and drive you permanently insane. Some people actually live their
whole lives with that kind of fear, and every time the monster
starts to come up: 'Oh-oh.... ! But monsters are just another
sankhara [compounded phenomenon], another grain of sand of
the Ganges River. Maybe an ugly sand grain, but that's all. If
you're going to get upset every time you see an ugly sand grain,
you're going to find life increasingly more difficult. Sometimes
we have to accept the fact that some sand grains are ugly. Let
them be ugly; don't get upset. If you saw me sitting beside the
Ganges River looking at ugly sand grains, saying, 'I'm going to go
crazy!' you'd think, 'Ajahn Sumedho is crazy!' Even a really ugly
sand grain is just a sand grain.
So what we're doing is looking at the common factor of all these
different qualities hidden monsters, latent repressed energies
and powers and archetypal forces - they are all just sankharas,
nothing much. You take the position of the Buddha: being the
Even the unknown we see it as just another changing condition
sometimes there's knowing, sometimes not-knowing; one conditions
the other. The black hole, sunlight, night and day are all change;
there's no self, nothing to become if you're being the knowing.
But if you're reacting to all the qualities of samsara
[See Note 3]
, you get really neurotic. That's endless, just like reacting to
all the sand grains of the Ganges River. How many lifetimes does
it take to react to all the sand grains of the Ganges River? Do
you think you have to emotionally respond to each sand grain of
the Ganges River, being ecstatic over the beautiful and depressed
over the ugly ones? Yet that's what people do, they dull
themselves, get worn down and exhausted with this emotional
turmoil all the time, and finally want to annihilate themselves.
So they start taking drugs, drinking all the time to desensitise
What we are doing, instead of building a shell and hiding
ourselves away in fear and dullness, is to observe that none of
this is self. So we don't have to desensitise ourselves: we can
become even more sensitive, clear and bright. In that clarity and
brightness there is the knowing: that if it arises, it passes away
and that's what Buddhas know!
1. Simply translated, anatta is 'not-self', and shunyata
(a Sanskrit word) is emptiness'
(impermanent, transitory); dukkha (imperfect, unsatisfying); and
anatta (impersonal, 'not-self') are the three characteristics of
all worldly phenomena, according to the Buddha.
the unenlightened, unsatisfactory experience of life; the world as
conditioned by ignorance.
THE FIVE HINDRANCES
Just as, 0 King, the bhikkhu, so long as
these Five Hindrances are not put away
within him, looks upon himself as in debt,
diseased, in prison, in slavery, lost on
a desert road. But when these Five
Hindrances have been put away within
him, he looks upon himself as freed from
debt, rid of disease, out of jail, a free man
Digha Nikaya 11 - 73
MEDITATION one develops an understanding of the Five Hindrances
[See Note 1]
how, when one of them is present, you investigate it, you
understand it, you accept its presence and you learn how to deal
with it. Sometimes you can just tell it to go away and it goes;
sometimes you just have to allow it to be there till it wears out.
We have subtle ways of being averse to that which is unpleasant
and we tend not to be very honest about our intentions. Our habits
are that as soon as something unpleasant arises we try to move
away from it or destroy it. So long as we are doing this, we don't
have any samadhi or concentration. It is only when these
Five Hindrances are absent, or we are no longer attached to them,
that we find any peace of mind or a concentrated heart.
It is only in the moment when a hindrance actually arises that we
can really penetrate it and have insight. If you have noticed, you
may go to some of these lectures and gain a profound understanding
of the Dhamma, but you can still get angry or frightened or feel
desire for things. When the actual situation arises, you are not
mindful; you tend to resist or resent or just judge.
I spent my first year as a samanera living in a monastery in
North-East Thailand. I was not compelled to do anything other than
just live in a little hut. The monks brought me food every day
and, as I could speak no Thai and nobody spoke any English, I
didn't have to talk to anyone. The senses were not stimulated to
any great extent, so sensory deprivation set in and I found myself
becoming very tranquil so tranquil, in fact, that I attained
great states of bliss and ecstasy. I'd sit on the porch of my
little kuti [hut] and tears of love would well up in my eyes for
the mosquitoes which were biting me. I could think in abstract
terms about 'all beings everywhere' and feel great love for them
too. I even forgave my enemies and those who had caused me
suffering in the past. I could entertain these high-minded
feelings for 'all beings' mainly because I was not having to live
Then one day, I had to go to the immigration authorities to renew
my visa. I had to travel to a place called Nong Khai, which is
where you cross the Mekong river to go to Laos. Because of my new
sensitive state, as I walked to the town I could see things more
clearly than ever before. I saw the sorrow and anguish in the
faces of the people. And then, when I walked into the Immigration,
I felt this iron curtain of hatred forming in front of me. I found
out later that the leading monk of the province had ordered the
officials to give me a visa. This was not quite in line with the
regulations, and so it had forced the officials into a position
that was really quite unfair. Because of this, they had a definite
aversion towards me and would not grant me a visa, which was very
confusing for me because of my heightened state of awareness. The
feeling of great love I had for all beings began to fade away very
By the time I got back to the monastery I was in a frantic mental
state. I went to my kuti and spent the next three days just
calming down all that had been aroused during that hour's visit to
After a few months, I became very fond of the isolated life.
There's something very romantic about living that way. It's so
peaceful not to be exposed to the misery of people or to have your
senses excited by their actions. Nature itself is very peaceful,
very pleasant to be with. Even the mosquitoes, which you might
think must be terribly annoying, are not really anywhere near as
annoying as people are. Actually, it takes much less skill to live
with mosquitoes than with another person.
I got very attached to that way of life, but after a few months I
had to go to Bangkok. I remember sitting in the train on the way
from Nong Khai to the capital. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I
just sat there with my high-minded thoughts about helping all
beings, dedicating my life to their welfare, about the Dhamma and
the Buddha. I was permeated by an overwhelming state of bliss.
'What a wonderful state to be in!' I thought. That noisy,
confusing and unpleasant city put paid to all that; in half an
hour my mind was in terrible confusion.
From these experiences I was beginning to see that the way to
enlightenment did not lie in being shut off from everything that
was unpleasant, but rather through learning to understand all that
we find unpleasant or difficult. Those particular conditions have
been set there for a purpose, to teach us. No matter how much we
don't want them, and would rather like things to be otherwise,
somehow they will persist in our lives until we have understood
and transcended them.
My hermit life ended soon after that. I was going to be ordained
as a bhikkhu, and would live with Ajahn Chah at a monastery where
I wouldn't be allowed the luxury of ascetic practice. I'd have to
live in a community of monks and perform MY duties, learn all the
disciplinary rules that bhikkhus have to learn, and live under the
authority of someone else. By this time I was quite willing to
accept all this; I realised that in fact it was exactly what I
needed. I certainly did not need any more ecstatic blissful states
that disappeared as soon as anything annoying happened.
At Wat Pah Pong [Ajahn Chah's monastery] I found a constant stream
of annoying conditions coming at me, which gave me a chance of
learning to deal with the Five Hindrances.
At the other monasteries in Thailand where I'd lived, the fact
that I'd been a Westerner had meant that I could expect to have
the best of everything. I could also get out of the work and other
mundane things that the other monks were expected to do by saying
something like: 'I'm busy meditating now. I don't have time to
sweep the floor. Let someone else sweep it. I'm a serious,
meditator.' But when I arrived at Wat Pah Pong and people said,
'He's an American; he can't eat the kind of food we eat,' Ajahn
Chah said, 'He'll have to learn.' And when I didn't like the
meditation hut I was given and asked for another that I liked
better, Ajahn Chah said, 'No.'
I had to get up at three o'clock in the morning and attend morning
chanting and meditation. There were readings from the vinaya too.
They were read in Thai, which at first I didn't understand; and
even when I could understand the language, they were
excruciatingly boring to listen to. You'd hear about how a monk
who has a rent in his robe so many inches above the hem must have
it sewn up before dawn ... and I kept thinking, 'This isn't what I
was ordained for!' I was caught up in these meticulous rules,
trying to figure out whether the hole in my robe was four inches
above the hem or not and whether I should have to sew it up before
dawn. Or they'd read about making a sitting cloth, and the monks
would have to know that the border had to be so many inches wide;
and there'd be a monk who'd say, 'Well, I've seen a sitting cloth
with a border different from that.' And the monks would even
become argumentative about the border of that sitting cloth.
'Let's talk about serious things, I'd think; 'things of
importance like the Dhamma.'
When it came to the pettiness of everyday life and of living with
people of many different temperaments, problems and characters,
whose minds were not necessarily as inspired as mine seemed to be
at the time, I felt a great depression. Then I was faced with the
Five Hindrances as a practical reality. There was no escape. I had
to learn the lesson that they were there to teach.
As for the first hindrance greed you would be surprised at
some of the forms that it takes for monks. As a layman, you can
spend time trying to seek out suitable objects, but because monks
live a celibate life and have few possessions, we find our greed
accumulates over things like robes or alms bowls. We are allowed
one meal a day, so a lot of greed and aversion may arise with
regard to food. At Wat Pah Pong we had to accept whatever hut we
were given, so sometimes you were fortunate, you got a really nice
one, and sometimes you got a not very nice one. But then you could
watch the aversion that arose if you were given something that you
did not like, or the pleasure if you were given something you
I became obsessed with robes for the first few months the colour
of the robe, believe it or not. At the monastery where I lived
before, they wore robes of a bright 'knock-your-eyes-out' kind of
orange and it was not my colour. When I went to Wat Pah Pong,
they wore a kind of ochre yellow or brownish coloured robe, and so
I developed great desire for this kind. At first they would not
give me one; I had to wear one of these 'knock-your-eyes-out'
orange robes, and I became very greedy to get new robes, big
robes. The robes in Thailand never fitted me properly, and at Wat
Pah Pong they'd make them to your size, you'd have tailor-made
robes. Finally, after a month or so Ajahn Chah suggested that a
monk make me these robes, but then I became obsessed by the colour.
I did not want it too brown, and I did not want too much red in
it. I went through a lot of sorrow and despair trying to get the
right colour for the robe!
Although we could not eat anything in the afternoon, certain
things are allowed in the vinaya, and one was sugar. So I found
myself having a fantastic obsession with sweets, while before I
had not really cared about sweets at all. At Wat Pah Pong, they'd
have a sweet drink once every two or three days in the afternoon,
and one began to anticipate the day when they would give you tea
with sugar in it or coffee with sugar in it. Or sometimes they'd
even make cocoa! When word got around that we'd have cocoa that
evening, one could not think about anything else.
I did not find sexual desire any problem in those days, because my
obsessions were with sugar and sweets. I'd go to bed at night and
dream about pastry shops. I'd be sitting at the table just about
to put the most gooky pastry in my mouth, and I'd wake up and
think: 'If only I could get just one bite!'
Before I went to Thailand I had spent a few years in Berkeley,
California, where it was pretty much a case of 'doing your own
thing'. There was no sense of having to obey anybody, or live
under a discipline of any sort. But at Wat Pah Pong I had to live
following a tradition that I did not always like or approve of, in
a situation where I had no authority whatsoever. I did not mind
obeying Ajahn Chah; I respected him. But sometimes I had to obey
monks I did not like very much and who I thought were inferior to
me. The Thai monks were very critical of me at Wat Pah Pong,
whereas in other monasteries they had praised me all the time.
They used to say, 'How beautiful you are.' It was the first time
in my life I'd ever felt that I was a raving beauty. 'And what
beautiful skin you have.' They liked white skin and though my skin
is not really very beautiful, it is white. At Wat Pah Pong,
however, the monks would say: 'You have ugly skin with brown
spots.' I was in my thirties at the time and still sensitive to
the ageing process, and they were asking, 'How old are you?' I'd
say, 'Thirty-three.' And they'd say, 'Really? We thought you were
at least sixty.' Then they would criticise the way I walked, and
say, 'You don't walk right. You are not very mindful when you
walk.' And I'd take this bag they gave me a bag and I'd just
dump it down, and think, 'This can't be very important.' And
they'd say, 'Put your bag down right. You take it like this, fold
it over, and then you set it down beside you like that.'
The way I ate, the way I walked, the way I talked everything was
criticised and made fun of; but something made me stay on and
endure through it. I actually learnt how to conform to a tradition
and a discipline and that took a number of years, really,
because there was always strong resistance. But I began to
understand the wisdom of the discipline of the vinaya, which is
not all that apparent on reading the vinaya scriptures. Having an
opinion on the traditions and the vinaya itself, you might think,
'This rule isn't necessary.' And you could spend hours of your day
just rationalising this, saying, 'This is the twentieth century,
these things are not necessary.' And you would keep watching the
discontent and proliferation going on inside you, and you'd ask
yourself, 'Is this suffering?' You'd keep watching your reactions
to being corrected, criticised, or praised.
Over the years, equanimity seemed to develop. One found that
anger, annoyance and aversion began to fade out. And when your
mind no longer inclines towards dwelling in aversion, you begin to
have some joy and some peace of mind.
As I gained confidence in the practice and the teacher and then
the monastery, I developed a kind of obsessive attachment to it. I
couldn't see any faults in it and I felt that this was what
everybody should be doing. People would come to the monastery and
I'd feet it was my duty to convert them. I can understand how
missionaries must feel. You feel very inspired, very attached to
something that has helped you and given you happiness and insight.
You feel compelled to tell everybody about it, whether they want
to hear it or not.
It was all right as long as the Westerners who came agreed with
me. That was nice; I could inspire them and they would feel the
same sense of dedication, and we would reinforce each other. We
could get together and talk about our tradition and our teacher
being the best, and how we had discovered something wonderful.
Then inevitably some negative American or Englishman would come to
the monastery and not fall for any of this.
This happened very strongly about my fifth year, when an American
came who had been at the Zen Center in San Francisco. He proceeded
to find fault with Ajahn Chah, with Wat Pah Pong, with Theravada
Buddhism, with the vinaya - with everything. He was quite an
intelligent person and he certainly had a lot of experience in
going from one teacher to another, from one ashram to another,
from one monastery to another, and finding fault with them. So
this put doubt in the minds of people: 'Maybe there is a better
way to do it, a quicker way. Maybe Ajahn Chah is an old-fashioned
nobody.' There was a teacher in India who was giving meditation
courses where people were becoming sotapannas
[See Note 2]almost
immediately. 'I don't know if I am a sotapanna yet or not. If I
could have a teacher come and tell me, verify, it would be really
nice to know where you are in this meditation.' Ajahn Chah would
not say anything to you. So I felt a strong aversion arise towards
this American, I felt the need to tear down every other type of
Buddhism, every other teacher, every possible alternative. I
became very critical, and every time somebody would say, 'I know a
better system,' I would immediately rather than listen to why it
was better find every possibility of why it was worse. So I
developed a habit of tearing down other teachers and traditions.
But this brought me no joy. I began to see the suffering in always
having to defend something and having to tear down anything that
threatens the security you find in attachment.
If you never really understand doubt, the nature of uncertainty in
you own mind, then you get overwhelmed by it, and when someone
says, 'I know a better way, a quicker way,' you start doubting:
'Maybe there is a better way, a quicker way.' Then they would
describe this better way in very rational terms, and you would
think, 'Well, yes, maybe that's the way to do it.' But when you
are attached and feel loyal to your teacher, you think, 'I can't
do that it's better to do it the slow way and be sure.' So then
you start putting down anybody who suggests there is a better or a
But the important thing to understand is the doubting mind. I saw
that it was not up to me to decide which was the best or the
quickest way to do anything, but to understand my own uncertainty.
So I began to investigate the mental state that would arise when
doubt was put into my mind, and after a while I began to accept
any kind of doubt, regarding it as a changing condition.
Once when I was in Bangkok, people were comparing religions, and I
was trying to be very tolerant and accept that all religions were
equally good, even though I did not really think so. I would
always try to say something good, about how the goal is the same,
and that we should love the Christians and try to have metta
[good-will] for all Christians. But I really felt that Buddhism
was better! One day this was bothering me, because I thought:
'What if somebody asks you, "Which is the best religion?" What
would you say? Well, "Buddhism," that's what I'd say.' Suddenly it
became very clear that that was only an opinion, and that opinions
were not permanent conditions they were not-self and you did not
need to have one or believe in one. I did not have to be the
authority, the one who says this is better than that. And I felt
no longer any obligation to think about it or to try to figure it
out. It became clear that all I had to do was to be aware of the
desire to know, and the ability to say, 'This is better than
Another time several years ago I became obsessed with jealousy. As
I was the senior monk, I felt I had to set an example of perfect
behaviour, and I began to feel jealous if other monks were
praised. Somebody might say, 'This monk is better than Sumedho,'
and I'd feel a tremendous sense of jealousy arise in my mind. It's
a kind of competitiveness, feeling that you always have to hold
your own in front of everybody else. But then I found that I did
not like jealousy; it was a most unpleasant condition. So I tended
to repress it. I would practise mudita
[See Note 3].
When somebody would say: 'That monk is better than Sumedho, I'd
say to myself; 'Isn't that wonderful, he's better than me,' or,
'Oh, how glad I am for that person, he's better off than I am.'
But I'd still feel jealous! So I realised I had to look at the
emotion, and that the problem was that I was always trying to get
rid of it. I decided to bring it up more; I started concentrating
on jealousy, and I'd think of every possible thing that would
arouse jealousy. I kept looking at the feeling of jealousy and
just observing its changing nature, and after a while it began to
fade out. As the resentment and the aversion disappeared I could
see that it was only a natural condition of the mind and that it
Sleepiness or mental dullness is another good teacher, which
appears when you no longer feel inspired by your monastic life.
When you've just been ordained, you feel a lot of inspiration at
least I did and you have a lot of energy. Then afterwards you
find yourself becoming very dull mentally. You start falling
asleep in sitting, or in listening to talks. You sit and
concentrate on the dullness, just let the mind go into a dull
mental state without putting any effort in, or you try to resist
this mental dullness.
On the moon days in Thailand we used to have to sit up all night
till dawn. At first, like a typical competitive American, I would
like to look good in front of others. So I'd sit there and, just
through sheer will-power, hold myself up all night. And I'd see
the Thai monks, some sinking down, some almost falling over, and
contempt would arise: 'I'm better than that! I won't allow myself
to give in to sleepiness or dullness.' But after a while the
will-power would fade out, and I'd find myself sinking down and
falling on my face on the floor. I would feel aversion at this
mental state and make myself stay awake by will-power.
With this, you find yourself going into a state where you don't
know what's going on and you start hallucinating. So I reflected
on this hindrance if it's something you don't like, that's the
real problem. Trying to get rid of something you don't want is
dukkha. So I thought: 'I'll just accept it; I'll investigate the
feeling of sleepiness and dullness.' Even though I thought that I
would fall asleep and disgrace myself in front of all the other
monks, I found that one can concentrate on the feeling of
sleepiness itself. I would contemplate the sensation around the
eyes, and the feeling in the body, observing the mental condition
and my habitual resistance to it. In this way, that hindrance soon
ceased being a problem to me.
In life, wisdom arises within us when we understand the things
that we are experiencing here and now. You don't have to do
anything special. You don't have to experience all kinds of
extreme pain in order to transcend pain. The pain in your ordinary
life is enough to be enlightened with. All these feelings of
hunger or thirst, or restlessness or jealousy or fear, of lust and
greed and sleepiness all these we can regard as teachers. Rather
than resenting them, saying, 'What did I do to deserve this?' you
should say, 'Thank you very much. I'll have to learn this lesson
some day; I might as well do it now, rather than put it off.'
1. The Buddha spoke of 'Five Hindrances' on the spiritual path: (i)
- sense desire (greed, lust); (ii) - ill-will (anger); (iii) -
dullness (sloth/torpor); (iv) - restlessness (agitation) and
worry; and (v) - sceptical doubt.
In characteristic style, Venerable Sumedho simply talks about
these, rather than delivering a systematic lecture. Owing to the
time limit of the talk, restlessness/worry (iv) was not commented
2. sotapanna: is the first stage (of four stages)
of the realisation of liberation. Arahant is the culmination of
3. mudita: happiness at anothers good fortune;
THE MONASTERY AS A TEACHER:
LAY PEOPLE AND THE VIHARA
Where there is uprightness, wisdom is
there, and where there is wisdom,
uprightness is there. To the upright there is
wisdom, to the wise there is uprightness,
and wisdom and goodness are declared to
be the best things in the world.
Digha Nikaya IV -124
WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST that people coming here should, on occasion,
bring candles, incense and flowers as an offering. This is a good
tradition to make an offering as part of our devotional practice
as Buddhists, as an act of worship, of gratitude, of love towards
the Teacher, the Buddha. The Buddha is the One Who Knows, the Wise
One within us but that's also just a conceptualisation. To use
our bodies within conventions, in a harmonious and graceful way,
inclining towards generosity, is in itself an act of giving. Is
your attitude 'I come to the Vihara to get something' or 'I come
to the Vihara to give' to actually physically give something?
Bowing ... this is another tradition. Learn how to bow mindfully,
putting one's head down, surrendering oneself physically, giving
oneself in the act of bowing, instead of just saying, 'I am not
aggressive, I am not proud and arrogant.' If you get proud that
you bow so well, or if you start hating people that do not bow,
then ... ! This is an act of devotion, and devotion is an opening
of the heart, of the emotions rather than the intellect. 'How much
do I gain from bowing?' you can try to figure out its advantages
or disadvantages, whether it's the real Dhamma, or it's necessary
or unnecessary. But any opinion and view that you have about it is
just another opinion and view.
Bowing is something that is done or not done - giving or not
giving but heedlessness is always this rationalisation, this
wanting to criticise or analyse or find reasons for doing or not
doing something. If we live our lives in wisdom, then we do or not
do. With awareness, we know what to do the generous, the
beautiful, the kind, the spontaneous; good actions are done
through awareness, through a seeing and understanding of time and
place. Or there is awareness of not doing, of wrong impulses,
selfish impulses these we do not act upon.
Chanting what is this? Is this a valuable thing, or is it
useless? If you ever doubt about it to do it or not to do it -
what goes on, do you know? Do you have to find reasons and
justifications, do you have to be convinced? Or do you take some
stand, saying 'I am not going to do it' or 'I am going to do it'?
Some people are always saying, 'Oh, chanting reminds me of all
those awful things Roman Catholics used to do to me - blind
devotion and rituals, rites and ceremonies.' This is taking a
stand. Can you mindfully participate in ceremony or are you going
to reject it because of a stand against it? Can you give yourself
to a tradition, or are you going to say, 'I'll only go so far, and
Like in the monastic life can you give yourself to the monastic
life, or are there going to be reservations? 'I'll go so far, then
I don't know. In meditation, I'll go so far then maybe.... I want
life on my terms, and always with the bridges there so I can run
back across them if I don't like what's ahead of me.' This is of
course samsara, heedless wandering.
In the practice of awareness, it is always the present moment,
complete involvement, complete surrender, acceptance and that is
liberation. With the other - with the doubt, the rationalisations,
justifications and reservations then there is always a myriad of
complexities that are going to pull us this way and that, and
confuse us. So I offer this for your reflection.
THE MONASTER AS TEACHER:
AN ANAGARIKA ORDINATION
means one who is leaving the home life for the homeless life. It
implies relinquishment and renunciation, as the homeless life is
the life of the religious seeker, dedicating himself or herself
solely to realising the Truth.
A renunciant is someone who can take on the Precepts that limit
and contain their energies, so that they're not finding themselves
being pulled out this way and that, and they can concentrate their
minds on the Truth which we call inclining to nibbana, the
First of all, you did the traditional salutation in Pali: 'Namo
Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhassa.[See
This is a way of reminding ourselves to be with that which is
perfect, the purified, the truly compassionate, the enlightened.
Then the taking of the Three Refuges Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha.
What do you really mean by taking refuge in Buddha?
[See Note 2]
Recollect that a refuge is a place that you go to for safety; and
that refuge of a Buddha means the refuge of wisdom. It's pointing
to something very real, not something idealistic, or far and
remote, but that which is wise within us, that which is wise in
the universe, awake and clear. So, when you take refuge in
Buddha,. it's not just an empty recitation, but a way for you to
recollect, because we do forget and get caught up in our feelings
Then Dhammam Saranam Gaccahmi'. Dhamma is the Pali word for the
Ultimate Reality, that which is ultimately true. We're taking
refuge in the immortal Truth, reminding ourselves to be with that
which is true. 'Sangham Saranam. Gacchami' taking
refuge in the Sangha, the virtuous ones, those who live by a code
of nobility and virtue. This is the Bhikkhu-Sangha, the order of
monks, but it also means that you are taking refuge in a
community, or with all human beings who are virtuous. Or you can
look at it as taking refuge in that in yourself which is virtuous,
compassionate and good and in the practical way of relating and
living as a human being. Our way of relating to each other is
through kindness, compassion and morality, rather than through
exploitation and selfishness. In this way, you remind yourself to
take refuge in Sangha.
As a renunciant anagarika, you take the Eight Precepts. The first
one is panatipata veramani to refrain from
intentionally taking the life of any living creature. You have to
learn to respect the life of living creatures, rather than just
get rid of them for your own convenience; you have to be more
considerate of even the most insignificant form of life, no matter
how unpleasant it might be. Panatipata makes us more patient, more
respectful towards the rights of all creatures on this earth.
We're no longer looking at this earth as if we're going to make
this earth as we want it, so that it's convenient for us at the
expense of everyone else.
Then adinnadana veramani is refraining from taking things that do
not belong to you, so that we train ourselves to respect that
which belongs to others.The third Precept is abrahmacariya
veramani, which means celibacy. This means total abstinence
from any kind of intentional sexual behaviour. This is the way of
a brahmacarin, in which we relinquish sexual delight for the
religious quest. In other words, we're taking the energy that goes
out in sexuality up into the heart, the spiritual centre.
The fourth is musavada veramani, which means to refrain
from lying, and to be more responsible for what one says not
using language for insulting others, for exaggeration or for
The fifth is surameraya majjapamadatthana veramani
refraining from alcoholic drinks and drugs. As anagarikas, you're
refraining from intentionally changing consciousness recognising
the way of mindfulness as one in which you open your minds and
understand conditions, rather than try to get away from them by
manipulating your minds.
The sixth precept is a renunciant one of refraining from eating at
the inappropriate time, so that we're not spending our whole day
just indulging in eating food. The anagarika (and bhikkhu) can eat
between dawn and noon usually here we eat the one meal just
before noon. In the winter, when it gets colder, we have rice
gruel in the early morning, but the idea is to eat just what is
necessary, rather than spend our time preparing and eating food.
In ordinary life, one tends to munch on things all day long at
least I did! but here we limit, rather than just follow, our
The long one which you did very well, congratulations! means
you're no longer seeking distraction through entertainment
[See Note 3]
. You're giving yourself up when you get bored, or want some
fun, want to go to movies, to discos and so forth by abstaining.
However, this doesn't mean that we're against fun and
entertainment, it means that we're simplifying our lives rather
than seeking distraction through the sensual world. Now if we feel
bored or weary, we move inward, towards the peace within.
Actually, you begin to realise that true peace of mind is much
more delightful than any kind of sensual pleasure, so after a
while the sense pleasures begin to seem not so enticing, as you
begin to recognise the strength within yourself.
The last precept is about sleeping. It is usually translated as
not sleeping on high and luxurious beds, but can be regarded more
as not seeking escape through sleeping all the time. There's that
side of us that, whenever life becomes difficult, wants to sleep
all the time, eradicate ourselves through sleeping 14 hours a day
and, of course, that's possible if you have high, luxurious
beds. But in the monastic life, we train ourselves to sleep on
harder surfaces, which are not the kind of places where you can
spend hours lost in sleep. So you begin to develop your meditation
and learn to limit the sleep to just what is necessary for the
body, and you know how much is an indulgence or an escape. Know
yourself how to live with your body and mind in a way that is
These precepts are guidelines; they are not to be burden-some
rules by which you feel guilt-ridden if you don't live up to the
highest standard. This is a way of training you're not expected
to be perfect all at once - a way of guiding yourself towards
recognising the conditions of your mind, towards recognising
resistance, laziness, indulgence and the resentment of being
restricted. You should want to see these things, so that you can
release yourself from the burden of repression and the burden of
indulgence - and find the Middle Way.
This is a training period for one year, so I expect you to remain
at least one year under the discipline, and then decide whether
you want to stay or not. This life is only valuable as long as you
see its value. It's not a life of compulsion: it has to be
voluntary, and the energy for it has to come from your mind. You
can't expect somebody else to enlighten you. This is a very mature
way of living in which you're developing from your heart,
developing the effort from your own mind, rather than just being
conditioned into being Buddhists or monks. It's useless if you're
just trying to rearrange your ways of life and thinking just to
become something else. That's not liberation, is it?
As an anagarika now, you no longer have a lot of choices and
decisions to make about what to do. Life here is much more
one-pointed, so you have more time to watch. We live here under
these principles so that we trust each other. We're not here to
compete with each other, to see who's going to become 'anagarika
of the year' - that would be working from the wrong attitude.
Instead, we learn to respect each other and have compassion for
each other as human beings, so that we're not being harsh or
narrow-minded in regards to individual problems, abilities, or
lack of abilities. We can't all be the same, but we can respect
So, even though we live in a community of many people, we allow
the space of the mind, we forgive each other for the things we do
wrong. Inevitably, living in a community with other beings means
that there are going to be misunderstandings and conflict, but we
work with that and with ourselves, rather than try to make the
community fit what we would like it to be.
This lesson is very important for a human being - to learn how to
forgive - as many of the problems in the world arise because of a
lack of forgiveness. Hundreds of years go by, and people are still
talking about what somebody did to their relatives two hundred
years ago! But as religious mendicants, we don't have to spend our
time complaining, criticising members of the community; rather, we
learn how to let go of our particular views about them and give
them the space to develop. Each of us has to develop from the
position of what we are ... recognising and realising, rather than
1. Homage to the Blessed, Noble and Perfectly Enlightened One,
i.e. to the Buddha.
2. The Pali chanting for taking refuge in the Buddha is Buddham
Saranam Gacchami To the Buddha I go for refuge. The formula is
similar for the Dhamma and Sangha.
3. The seventh precept
varamani sikkhapadam samdiyami.
THE MONASTER AS TEACHER:
THE FIRST BHIKKHU ORDINATION
A report by Ajahn Anando
I teach the Dhamma for the abandoning of
acquisitions of self, in order that in you,
who put the teaching into practice, defiling
ideas may be abandoned and cleansing
ideas increase; and that you, by realisation
here and now with direct knowledge,
enter upon and abide in the fullness of
understanding's perfection.... If it is
thought that to do so is an unpleasant
abiding, that is not true: on the contrary,
by doing so there is gladness, happiness,
tranquillity, mindfulness, full awareness
and a pleasant abiding.
Digha Nikaya IX
EHI BHlKKHU! 'Come,
bhikkhu!' are the words from the Pali Canon that the Buddha used
when he first ordained those interested in leading a life as a
Buddhist monk (or bhikkhu). Those words were used over two
millennia ago after the Blessed One 'turned the Wheel of the Law[See
and began his ministry to aid beings lost in this world of change.
The wheel has continued to turn, and on July 16th  we found
ourselves in the tiny village of Chithurst in West Sussex,
following a procedure that has evolved in the Theravada tradition
since the first invitation to Go Forth. That such an event took
place says a great deal for the spiritual maturity, sincerity and
generosity of the Buddhist community in Britain. The events that
came to a culmination on this day once again show how perfect the
natural unfolding of life can be.
Earlier this year, Venerable Sumedho Bhikkhu, the abbot and
teacher at Chithurst Forest Monastery, was invited to Thailand by
his Meditation Master, Venerable Ajahn Chah. Whilst there, he was
given permission by the most senior of the bhikkhus of the Thai
Sangha to perform the duties of an Upajjhaya ('Preceptor') in
Britain. Feeling it would be useful, he accepted this
responsibility. However, one cannot just go out on a street corner
or Hyde Park and ordain bhikkhus. A few important procedures have
first to be completed. One of the most significant is establishing
a boundary or sima: a specially defined area wherein acts of the
Bhikkhu-Sangha may take place.
None of the bhikkhus at Chithurst had had much experience in
performing this particular act of Sangha procedure. It is not
something that often needs to take place in an ancient Buddhist
country like Thailand. Although research into the correct
procedure had been done, and a few likely locations in our woods
were selected, there was a long pause when nothing much happened
except that the day for ordination crept closer. It has been our
experience that there is indeed a 'time for all seasons' and there
seemed to be a tacit understanding among bhikkhus that, as yet, it
wasn't the right time.
In the latter part of May, we had the good fortune to be visited
by Venerable Anandamaitreya Mahanayaka
[See Note 2]
. On the evening of June 2nd, after the recitation of the
patimokkha (the Rules of the Discipline), we asked him about the
procedures for establishing a sima.
'Oh, it's very simple' he said. 'In Sri Lanka, I have established
over forty of them.' And with his delightful smile he asked,
'Shall we do it now?'
We looked at each other it was just a short time until the
evening meditation and, after two weeks of almost continuous rain,
it looked like rain again. Sensing our hesitation, he said, 'Let
us do it tomorrow then.'
It obviously was the right time. The local rain spirit went on
holiday, and June 3rd broke bright, clear, sunny and warm. By the
time the bell rang for the meal at 10.30 a.m. the sima at
Chithurst Forest Monastery, the first in Britain, had been
established. Out of gratitude, we have named the boundary the
Anandamaitreya Sima. To add to the beauty and auspiciousness of
the day, an exquisitely carved figurine of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva
was discovered in the garage of a local blacksmith. On hearing it
identified as the Bodhisattva of Compassion, the owner generously
offered the image to the monastery. She arrived at Chithurst just
as the bhikkhus were acknowledging Venerable Sumedho as Upajjhaya.
This acknowledgement was the first formal act of the Sangha in the
newly?established sima. It was a very special day.
The tempo of preparations began to quicken: the chanting of the
bhikkhus-to-be and of the acariyas
[See Note 3]
for the ordination Bhikkhus Anando and Viradhammo could be
heard occasionally drifting through the house when there was a
break in the din of construction work on the new shrine room. We
rehearsed the ordination procedure, sewed the robes for the new
monks, worked long hours on the new shrine room, and prayed for
nice weather for the ordination day.
There were over one hundred people at Chithurst Monastery on July
16th for the ordination. This unusual gathering of people from
many cultures for a very special event the Going Forth of three
men into the life of a homeless one a bhikkhu. Those who came
sat around the sima on the grass or on chairs, and the occasion
that so many had waited for, for such a long time, began very
simply with a bow.
Venerable Anandamaitreya insisted that Venerable Sumedho be the
Upajjhaya for the ordination, as he is the abbot and teacher at
Chithurst. The actual ordination of the bhikkhus took only one
hour, but for those wearing the robe for the first time, this can
be a traumatic experience. Everything feels like it's about to
fall off, in front of one hundred people! To complicate matters,
for some reason the robe material didn't shrink the 15% it was
expected to. One had visions of new bhikkhus tripping on their
much-too-long robes and sprawling head?first at the feet of
Fortunately, nothing like that happened. The new bhikkhus
Jayamangalo, Sumano, and Thitapaρρo knew the correct responses,
and without obstruction the acariyas did their chanting, following
the long-established tradition. Venerable Sumedho Bhikkhu
acknowledged the completion of each ordination with a big smile,
raising his hands in aρjali as the new bhikkhus bowed to
him for the first time.
It is recorded that in the middle of the third century B.C., the
great Buddhist King Asoka sent his son, the Arahant Mahinda, to
Tissa, King of Ceylon, to sow the seeds of the Buddhasasana in
that country. Around 1360 A.D. the then King of Thailand requested
from Ceylon that bhikkhus be dispatched to preside over and
validate ordinations in Thailand. In 1908, another Anandamaitreya,
the first English bhikkhu, returned home from Burma with
aspirations for establishing the order of Buddhist monks here. In
1956, the English Sangha Trust was formed as a concrete step
towards this same noble goal. And in 1981, with three of the most
consistently supportive trustees present Mr. Maurice Walshe, Mr.
Geoffrey Beardsley and Mr. George Sharp this goal was realised.
The ordination of the three bhikkhus was a joyous occasion. To
actually see the Buddhadhamma transforming the worldly heart into
one dedicated to the path of liberation is inspiring for all of
us, and as a sign of the far-reaching significance of such a step,
the Metta Sutta was recited at the completion of the ceremony,
wishing well to the newly-ordained, and dedicating the merit of
the occasion to the liberation of all beings.
1. A reference to the Buddha's first sermon, approximately
entitled 'The Sutta that Set in Motion the Wheel of the Law'.
2. Ven. Anandamaitreya is a deeply respected Sri Lankan bhikkhu,
who has been a monk for most of this century. He was formerly the
patriarch of the 'Amarapura' sect in Sri Lanka.
3. Senior monks who assist in the ordination ceremony
THE MONASTER AS TEACHER:
THE SAMANA AND SOCIETY
TEACHINGS OF THE BUDDHA are the teachings that help us to
understand ourselves. Even though it's quite possible for us to
figure it out on our own, I really doubt whether I would be able
to do it, so I'm quite grateful to have an established form and
convention to use as a guide in order to understand my emotions,
memories and habits.
Being committed to the convention of a samana
[See Note 1]
means that it's something I give myself to voluntarily; it's
something I feet grateful to and respect, so that I stay within
the limitations that it places on me. Kataρρu gratitude
arises in the mind. I remember the tremendous feeling of
gratitude that arose towards Tan Ajahn Chah and Thai society when
I realised that they had provided me with the occasion and the
support to live like this and to understand myself. When you
realise the wonder of that, you gladly live within the
conventions; you want to perfect them and be worthy, as a way of
offering back to those who have supported you. So one goes back
into society, in order to be of service and give that occasion to
An alms-mendicant is one who gives the occasion for others to give
alms. This is different from being a beggar going around
scrounging off the neighbours. . . . A lot of people think we're
just a bunch of beggars. Why don't they go out and work? They
probably laze around Chithurst House just waiting for someone to
come along and feed them! Why don't they go out and get a job, do
something important?' But an alms-mendicant gives the occasion for
others to give the alms that are necessary for existence such as
food, robes, shelter and medicine. You don't need very much, and
you have to live quite humbly and impeccably so you are worthy of
alms. One reflects: 'Am I worthy of this, have I been living
honestly and rightly within the discipline?' because what people
are giving to is not me as a personality, but to the Sangha which
lives following the teaching of the Buddha.
This monastery is dependent on alms. There are no fees for
staying; it just depends on what people offer. If it was an
institution based on fees, we wouldn't really be samanas any more,
we'd be businessmen, making a business out of teaching the Dhamma
which has been freely given to us. A country like this is regarded
as a benevolent and good country, but it has become too
bureaucratic and too materialistic. Here in Europe, people have
lost that kataρρu we've become very demanding, always
complaining and wanting things better and better, even though we
don't really need such a high standard.
As samanas, we give the occasion for people to give what they can,
and that has a good effect on us as well as on society. When you
open up the opportunity in a society where people can give to
things they respect and love, people get a lot of happiness and
joy. But if you have a tyrannical society where we're constantly
trying to squeeze out everything we can get, we have a miserable
and depressed society.
So in Britain now, we as monks and nuns make ourselves worthy of
love and respect, people make offerings and more people experience
the arising of faith. More people come and listen they want to
practice the Dhamma, they want to have the occasion to go forth,
and so it increases....
1. samana: one who has entered the Holy life; a religious;
originally, a religious recluse or wanderer.
Patient endurance is the supreme austerity.
IS A VIRTUE that is highly praised within Buddhist circles, but
not considered so terribly important in the materialist world,
where efficiency and getting what we want instantly are far more
desirable. With all the instant things that are produced now, as
soon as we feel a desire, a need for something, we can get it
quickly and if we can't get it quickly we become very annoyed or
upset and complain ... 'This country's going to the dogs.' We hear
that all the time don't we? people complaining ... because if
people are going on strike, or aren't efficient enough, quick
enough to satisfy our desires, we have to wait and patiently
Notice in sitting, when pain arises in your body, how impatient
you become, automatically trying to get away from pain. If you
have a fever or become sick, notice how you resent the
inconvenience, the annoyance of the body, and try to get well to
get away from pain as soon as possible.
The virtue of patience is probably the most important one for us
to consider at this time, because if you don't have patience then
of course spiritual development is an impossibility. So I might
think, 'I'll take the instant Zen practice; I don't want to be
bothered with that Theravada because it takes too long a time. I
want to get enlightened instantly, quickly, so I don't have to
wait around doing boring things, doing things that take time that
I may not feel like doing. Maybe I can take a course, or take a
pill, have some kind of machine and get enlightened quickly.' I
remember when LSD first became known, people were saying that it
was the quick way to enlightenment: 'You just swallow this tablet
and you understand everything! You don't have to bother with
ordination as a monk, and have to sit around in a monastery. Just
take a pill and you'll be enlightened. Go to the chemist or the
dope peddler ... and you don't have to commit yourself to
Wouldn't that be wonderful, if that was all one had to do? But
then after a few trips on LSD, people began to realise that,
somehow, the enlightening experience seemed to disappear, and you
were left in an even worse state than ever. No patience.
In a monastery, the development of patience is a part of our way
of life. In the forest monasteries of North-East Thailand, you
have a chance to become very patient, because there life is much
less efficient and you have to endure. You have to endure through
all kinds of unpleasant physical experiences, such as malarial
fevers, and the hot season. The hot season in the North-East is
one of the dreariest things I've experienced in my life. You wake
up in the morning and think, 'Not another day' everything seems
so deary. You think, 'Another hot day, an endless day of heat and
mosquitoes and sweat.' A seemingly endless day, and one day after
And then one reminds oneself: 'What a wonderful opportunity for
developing patience!' You hear about modern American ways to
enlightenment where you can get involved in the most interesting
kinds of personal relationships and scientific machinery, doing
absolutely fascinating things to each other, and get enlightened.
And here you are, sitting in the hot season, a hot, dreary day,
endless, in which one hour seems like an eternity. You think,
'What am I doing here? I could be in California, having a
fascinating life, doing fascinating things, getting enlightened
quicker and more efficiently. California is much more advanced and
with?it than the North-East of Thailand.' And then you receive
letters from impatient Americans who have gone around the world,
visited all the Ajahns. . . 'What am I doing here, sweating
through my robes, being bitten by mosquitoes?'
And then you think: 'I'm developing patience. If I just learn to
be patient in this lifetime, I've not wasted it. just to be a
little more patient it's good enough. I won't go to California,
get caught up in those fascinating encounter groups, modern
therapies and scientific experiments.... I'll just sit here and
learn to be patient with a mosquito biting my arm ... learn to be
patient with an endless, dreary hot season that seems to go on for
I also used to think: 'My mind is too alert and bright; I've got
so much restless movement in my mind.' Because I had always wanted
to have an interesting personality, I trained myself in that
direction and acquired all sorts of useless information and silly
ideas, so I could be a charming, entertaining person. But it
doesn't really count it's useless in a monastery in North-East
Thailand that mental habit just goes around in your mind when
you're alone, with nobody to charm, and nothing's fascinating any
more. Instead of becoming fascinating and charming I could see
there was no point in that I started looking at the water
buffaloes, and wondering what went on in their minds. A Thai water
buffalo is one of the most stupid?looking creatures in the whole
world. It's a big, clumsy thing, and it has the dullest-looking
face. 'That's what I need, to sit in my kuti, sweating through my
robes, trying to imagine what a water buffalo is thinking.' So I'd
sit there and create in my mind an image of a water buffalo,
becoming more stupid, more dull, more patient, and less of a
fascinating and clever, interesting personality.
Just learning to be more patient with things as they are, with
oneself one's hang-ups, one's obsessive thoughts, restless mind
... and with the way things are externally. Like here at Chithurst
how many of you are really patient with Chithurst? I hear some
of you complaining that you have to work too hard, or there's not
enough of this, or you want more time, or you want.... There are
too many people, not enough privacy the mind goes on, doesn't it?
There's always some place that's better. But patience means that
you endure through the way things are right now. How many of you
would be willing to sit through a hot season in North-East
Thailand? Or endure through a year of having some tropical
disease, patiently, without wanting to go home and have mother
take care of you?
We still have the hope that eventually enlightenment will make us
a more interesting, with-it person than an unenlightened being: if
you could just get enlightened you could surely increase the
feeling of self-importance. But the Buddha-wisdom is a very
humbling wisdom, and it takes a great deal of patience to be wise
like Buddha. Buddha-wisdom isn't a particularly fascinating kind
of wisdom it's not like being a nuclear physicist, or a
psychiatrist or a philosopher. Buddha-wisdom is very humbling,
because it knows that whatever arises passes away and is not-self.
So it knows that whatever condition of the body and mind arises,
it is conditioned, and whatever arises passes away. And it knows
the Unconditioned as the Unconditioned.
But is knowing the Unconditioned very interesting or fascinating?
Try to think of knowing the Unconditioned would that be
interesting? You might think, 'I'd like to know God or Dhamma:
it's going to be an incredibly fascinating thing to know,
something blissful and ecstatic.' So you look in your meditation
for that kind of experience. You think that getting high is
getting close. But the Unconditioned is as interesting as the
space in this room. The space in this room is it very
interesting to look at? It's not to me: the space in this room is
like the space in the other room. The things in this room might be
interesting or uninteresting or whatever good, bad, beautiful,
ugly but the space ... what is it? There is nothing you can
really say or think about it, it has no quality except being
spacious. And to be able to be really spacious, one has to be
As there is nothing one can grasp, one recognises space only by
not clinging to the objects in the room. When you let go, when you
stop your absorptions, judgements, criticisms and evaluations of
the beings and the things in the room, you begin to experience the
space of it. But that takes a lot of patience and humility. With
conceit and pride we can form all our opinions ... about whether
we like the Buddha?image or not, or the picture in the back, or
the colour of the walls, whether we think the photograph of Ajahn
Mun is an inspiring one, or the photograph of Ajahn Chah. But when
we just sit here in the space ... the body starts becoming
painful, we become restless, or sleepy. Then we endure, we watch
and we listen. We listen to the mind the complaining of the
mind, the fears, the doubts and the worries not in order to come
up with some fascinating, interesting conclusions about ourselves
as being anything, but just as a mere recognition, a bare
recognition that all that arises passes away.
Buddha-wisdom is just that much: knowing the conditioned as the
conditioned, and the Unconditioned as the Unconditioned. Buddhas
rest in the Unconditioned, and no longer, unless it's necessary,
seek absorption into anything. They are no longer deluded by any
conditions, and they incline to the Unconditioned, the
spaciousness, the emptiness, rather than towards the changing
conditions within the space.
In your meditation now, as you incline towards the emptiness of
the mind, towards the spaciousness of the mind, your habitual
grasping, fascination, revulsions, fears, doubts and worries about
the conditions lessen. You begin to recognise they're just things
that come and go: they're not-self, nothing to get excited about
or depressed about, they are as they are. We can allow conditions
to be just as they are, because they come and go their nature is
to go away, so we don't have to make them go away. We're free and
patient and enduring enough to allow things to take their natural
course. In this way, we liberate ourselves from the struggle,
strife, and the confusion of the ignorant mind that has to spend
all its time evaluating and discriminating, trying to hold onto
something, trying to get rid of something.
So reflect on what I've said, and take all the time in the world
to endure the unendurable. What seems to be unendurable is
endurable if you are patient. Be patient with others and with the
world as it is, rather than always dwelling on what's wrong with
it and how you'd like it to be if you had your way. Remember that
the world happens to be as it is, and right now that's the only
way it can be. The only thing we can do is be patient with it. It
doesn't mean that we approve, or like it any the more. . . it
means we can exist in it peacefully, rather than complaining,
rebelling and causing more frictions and confusion, adding to the
confusion through believing in our own confusion.
THE PRACTICE OF METTA
For hatred is never appeased
by hatred in this world;
only by kindness
is aversion appeased.
This is the eternal law.
EVENING I would like to talk about the practice of metta,
a meditation which most people will find very useful. Metta is
generally translated as 'loving-kindness'. This may be too big a
word, because we tend to think of 'loving, kindness' as grand and
wonderful, and sometimes we cannot generate that kind of love for
The English word 'love' is often misused. We say 'I love to eat
fish and chips,' when what we mean is 'I like to eat fish and
chips.' The Christians talk about 'Christian love': this means the
love of your enemies, it does not mean liking them. How can you
like your enemies? We can, however, love them which means that
we will not do anything to harm them. We will not dwell in
aversion towards them. You can be kind to your enemies, kind
towards people who are not very nice to you, who insult you and
wish you harm. They may be unpleasant people whom you cannot like,
but can love. Metta is not a superman's love it is the very
ordinary ability to just be kind and not dwell in aversion towards
something or someone.
Right now, if a man walked into this room drunk, ugly, diseased,
stinking, cursing and swearing, with warts all over his face we
could not even consider liking him ... but we can be kind. We
would not have to punch him in the nose, curse him and force him
out of the room. We could invite him in and give him a cup of tea.
We can be kind, we can do something for someone who is repulsive
and disgusting in some way. When we think to ourselves, 'I can't
stand that man, get him out of here, he is disgusting,' it becomes
impossible to be kind, and we are creating suffering around what
is unpleasant to us.
There is a great lack of metta in the world today, because we have
over-developed our critical faculties: we constantly analyse and
criticise. We dwell on what is wrong with ourselves, with others,
with the society we live in. Metta, however, means not dwelling in
aversion, being kind and patient, even towards that which is bad,
evil, foul or terrible. It is easy to be kind towards nice animals
like little kittens and puppies. It is easy, to be kind towards
people we like, towards sweet little children, especially when
they are not ours. It is easy to be kind to old ladies and old men
when we do not have to live with them. It is easy to be kind to
that which agrees with us politically and philosophically and
which does not threaten us in any way. It is much more difficult
to be kind to that which we don't like, which threatens us or
which disgusts us. That takes much more endurance.
First we have to start with ourselves. So, in traditional Buddhist
style, we always start the practice of metta by having metta for
ourselves. This does not mean we say, 'I really love myself, I
really like me.' When we practise metta towards ourselves, we do
not dwell in aversion on ourselves any more. We extend kindness
towards ourselves, towards conditions of body and mind. We extend
kindness and patience even towards faults and failings, towards
bad thoughts, moods, anger, greed, fears, doubts, jealousies,
delusions all that we may not like about ourselves.
When I first went to England, I asked the Buddhist people there
whether they did the practice of metta. They said, 'No, can't
stand it; it's so false. We're supposed to go around saying, "I
like myself, I love myself, may I be happy." It's so soppy, wet,
foolish I don't really feel it. It seems so false and
superficial.' On that level, it sounded a bit silly to me too,
until I realised that it wasn't taught in the right way and had
become sentimental, a cosmetic covering up of things. The people
of England could not go along with it; they would rather sit and
analyse themselves, look at their faults and exaggerate them out
of all proportion. They thought they were being honest with
When we practise metta towards ourselves, we stop trying to find
all our weaknesses, faults and imperfections. Usually when you
have a bad mood or start to feel depressed, you think, 'Here I go
again I'm worthless.' When this happens, have metta for the
depression itself. Don't make a bad thing out of it, don't
complicate it be at peace with it. Peacefully co-exist with the
depressions, fears, doubts, anger, or jealousy. Don't create
anything around them with aversion.
Last year, a woman came to ask me about depression. She said, 'I
suffer from depression on occasions. I know it's bad, I know I
shouldn't, and I want to know what to do about it. I really don't
want it, I want to get rid of it. What do you suggest?' Now what
is wrong with depression? You expect that you should never feel
depressed, because of an idea that there's something wrong with
you for being that way. Sometimes life just isn't very pleasant,
it can be downright depressing. You can't expect life to be always
pleasant, inspiring and wonderful.
I know how depression arises when there are unhappy things and
unpleasant scenes around; I saw a lot of it in my first year in
England. After living in a warm, sunny country like Thailand,
where the people have great respect for the monks, always
addressing you as 'Venerable Sir', giving you things and treating
you as if you were terribly important, I found that in England
people treat you (the monks) as if you are crazy. London isn't
sunny and smiling, it can be drizzling and cold and people are not
interested in you at all. They look at you and just turn away
without giving you a smile. In Thailand, life was so simple and
easy for a Buddhist monk. We had nice forest monasteries in
natural surroundings and our own little huts amongst the trees. In
London we were cooped up in a grotty little house day after day,
kept indoors by the drizzling rain and cold.
So all the monks began to feel depression and negativity. We would
just go through the motions of being monks. We would get up at 4
a.m. make it to the shrine room to do a little chanting, get that
over with and then sit in meditation for a while, drink tea, go
out for a walk just going through the motions. We weren't
putting energy into anything we were doing; we were getting caught
up in that which was depressing. There was also a lot of friction,
a lot of problems in the group which had invited us to England, a
lot of personality clashes and misunderstandings. When I reflected
on it, I began to see that what I was doing was getting caught up
in the unpleasant things that were happening around me. I was
creating negative feelings around that. I was wishing I was back
in Thailand, wishing the unpleasant things would go away, wishing
it wouldn't be the way it was, worrying about people and wishing
they were otherwise.
I began to realise that I was dwelling in aversion on the
unpleasant things around me. There were a lot of unpleasant things
happening and I was creating aversion around it all. I was
complicating it all in my mind, so I was suffering for it. We
decided to put effort into just being there; we stopped
complaining, we stopped demanding or even thinking and wishing
about being somewhere else. We began to put energy into our
practice, getting up early, doing exercises to keep warm and we
began to feel much better. Everything around us was the same, but
we learned not to create problems within ourselves over those
When you have high expectations for yourself, thinking you have to
be Superman or Wonder Woman, then of course you don't have much
metta, because only very seldom can we live up to such a high
standard. You become doubtful of yourself. 'Maybe I'm not good
enough.' By practising metta towards ourselves, we can stop doing
that. We begin to forgive ourselves for making mistakes, for
giving in to weaknesses. It doesn't mean that you rationalise
things away, but rather that you do not go on creating problems or
dwelling in aversion on the faults you have and the mistakes you
So by applying the practice of metta inwardly, we can become a lot
more peaceful within ourselves, with the conditions of our minds
and bodies. We become more mindful and aware, more awake to the
way things are. Wisdom begins to arise, and we can see how we
create unnecessary problems all the time by just following the
momentum of habit.
Metta means a little more than just kindness. It is a penetrating
kindness, an awareness kind awareness. Metta means we can
co-exist peacefully in a kindly way with the sentient beings
within us and with beings outside. It does not mean liking, does
it? Some people go to that extreme. They say, 'I love my
weaknesses because that's really me. I wouldn't be me if I didn't
have my wonderful weaknesses.' That's silly. Metta is being
patient, being able to co-exist with, rather than trying to
annihilate the pests of our minds.
Our society is very much one that annihilates pests both inwardly
and outwardly, wanting to create an environment where there are no
pests. I hear monks say, 'I can't meditate because there are too
many mosquitoes; if only we could get rid of them.' Even though
you can never really like mosquitoes, you can have metta for them,
respecting their right to exist and not getting caught up in
resentment at their presence. Similarly, if I have metta for the
depressed mood at the moment and allow it to be there, recognising
it and not demanding that it not be there, it will go. Feelings
like these arise naturally and go away. We make them stay longer
because we want them to go all the time. The struggle of trying to
get rid of something we do not like seems to make it stay longer
than it would otherwise.
The more we try to control nature, manipulate it according to our
greed and desire, the more we end up polluting the whole earth.
People are getting really worried now because we can see so much
pollution from all the chemicals and pesticides that we use to try
to get rid of the things in nature that we don't want. When we try
to annihilate the pests in our minds, we end up with pollution too
we have nervous breakdowns and then the pests come back stronger
Our modern society does not encourage much metta towards the old,
the sick and the dying. Our society is very much oriented towards
youth and vigour, being fast and staying young for as long as
possible. When you get old, you're kind of useless, you can't do
anything very well, you're slow, you're no longer attractive, so
people don't really want to know you. Many old people feel they
have no place in society. They get old and are cast aside as
useless people. Our society treats the intellectually handicapped
and the mentally ill in the same way. We try to keep them away so
that we don't have to look at them and know they're around. Trying
to ignore the facts of life such as death, infirmity and old age
results in an increasing amount of mental illness, mental
breakdowns and alcoholism.
In schools in the United States, we tried to get all the
intelligent students with high IQs together in one class and the
slow and dumb ones in another. We did not want the intelligent
students to be slowed down by the halting progress of the dumb
ones. I think the most important thing the intelligent can learn
is to be kind and patient towards those who are not as intelligent
or quick as they are.
When we are forced to compete with our own kind, life becomes
hectic and frustrating. Kindness, patience and compassion are much
more helpful qualities for knowing how to live in the world than
getting first prize and coming first in the class. Feeling that we
always have to strive and compete to survive makes us neurotic and
miserable. Those who can't compete feel inferior and just drop
out. We have frustration and unfulfilment among the gifted as well
as the not-so-gifted because metta has never been considered
When we practise metta we begin to be willing to learn from
termites and ants, from people who are slow, from the old, sick
and dying. We become willing to take time out to take care of
somebody who is ill ... and that takes patience, doesn't it? We
become willing to take time out of our busy lives to help and be
with somebody who is dying. We become willing to try to
contemplate and understand dying. This is the direction we must
take to create a really humane and good society.
Before we can start making great changes in society, we have to
start with ourselves, having metta for the conditions of our minds
and bodies. We can have metta for the disease when we are ill. It
does not mean that we are going to help the disease to stay for a
longer time or that we should not have an injection of penicillin
because we are having metta for the little germs infecting us. It
means not dwelling in aversion on the discomfort and the weakness
of our bodies when they are ill. We can learn to meditate on the
fevers, fatigue, bodily pain and aches that we all experience. We
don't have to like them, all we need do is to take the time to
endure them and try to understand them rather than just resent
them. When we do not have metta, we just tend to react to those
conditions with a desire to annihilate, and the desire to
annihilate always takes us to despair. We keep on re-creating all
the conditions for despair in our minds when we just try to
annihilate all that we do not like and do not want.
Living in a Buddhist monastery is good training for learning to
live with people. As a layman, I had some control over whom I
associated with, keeping close to certain friends whom I liked to
be with and staying away from anyone I did not like. But in the
monastery we did not have any choice, we had to live with whoever
was there, whether we liked them or not. So sometimes you had to
live with people whom you did not like or whom you found
irritating and annoying. That was good for me because I began to
understand people whom I would never have taken the time to
understand otherwise. If I had had a choice, I would not have
lived with some of the people, but as that choice was not
available I learned to be more sensitive and open. I learned to
have metta and allow people to be as they are, rather than always
trying to force them to change, forcing them to be as I would like
them to be or trying to get rid of them.
Wisdom arises when we begin to accept all the different 'beings'
both within ourselves and outside, rather than always trying to
manipulate things so that it is convenient and pleasant for us all
the time, so that we do not have to be confronted with irritating
and troublesome people and situations. Let's face it, the world is
an irritating place!
From my own experience, I learned how frustrating life is when I
have ideas of how I want it to be. So I began to look at my own
suffering rather than just trying to control everything according
to my desires. Instead of making requests and demands or trying to
control everything, I began to flow with life, and that was much
easier in the long run than all the manipulation that I used to
do. We can still be fully aware of the imperfections and not
dismiss them or be irresponsible; the practice of metta means we
are not creating problems around it by dwelling in aversion. We
can allow ourselves to flow with life.
Our experience of life sometimes isn't very pleasant, enjoyable or
beautiful; at other times it's all of these. That's the way life
is. The wise person can always learn from both extremes not
attaching to either and not creating problems but peacefully
co-existing with all conditions.
KAMMA AND REBIRTH
He, refraining from such views, grasps
at nothing in the world; and not grasping,
he trembles not; and trembling not, he by
himself attains to perfect peace. And he
knows that rebirth is at an end, that the
higher life has been fulfilled, that what had
to be done has been accomplished, and that
there is no more becoming.
Digha Nikaya XV - 68
IS A SUBJECT people like to talk about, to speculate about with
opinions and views concerning what we were in the past and what
might become of us in the future ... about how our kamma affects
someone else's, and so forth. What I try to do is point out how to
use these. Kamma and rebirth are words they're only concepts
that point to something that we can watch. It's not a matter of
believing in kamma or disbelieving, but of knowing what it really
Kamma actually means to do, and we can observe it by being aware
of what we are conscious of in the moment. Whatever it is:
whatever feeling or sensation, thought or memory, pleasant or
unpleasant, it's kamma something moving from its birth to its
death. You can see this directly, but it's so simple that, of
course, we would like to speculate about it: why do we have the
kamma we do have, what happens if we aren't enlightened, will we
be born in a higher realm if we practise hard, or will the kamma
from previous lives overwhelm us? Or, we speculate about re-birth:
what is it that carries on from one life to the next if there's no
soul? If everything's anatta, how can 'I' have been
something in a previous life and have some essence that is born
But if you watch the way things operate independently of yourself,
you begin to understand that rebirth is nothing more than desire
seeking some object to absorb into, which will allow it to arise
again. This is the habit of the heedless mind. When you get
hungry, because of the way you've been conditioned, you go out and
get something to eat. Now that's an actual rebirth: seeking
something, being absorbed into that very thing itself. Rebirth is
going on throughout the day and night, because when you get tired
of being reborn you annihilate yourself in sleep. There's nothing
more to it than that. It's what you can see. It's not a theory,
but a way of examining and observing kammic actions.
'Do good and you'll receive good; do bad and you'll receive bad.'
We worry: 'I've done so many bad things in the past; what kind of
result will I get from all that?' Well, all you can know is that
what you've done in the past is a memory now. The most awful,
disgusting thing you've ever done, that you wouldn't want anyone
to know about, the one that, whenever anybody talks about kamma
and rebirth, makes you think: 'I'm really going to get it for
having done that' that is a memory, and that memory is the
kammic result. The additions to that like fearing, worrying, and
speculating these are the kammic results of unenlightened
What you do, you remember; it's as simple as that. If you do
something kind, generous or compassionate, the memory makes you
feet happy; and if you do something mean and nasty, you have to
remember that. If you try to repress it, run away from it, get
caught up in all sorts of frantic behaviour that's the kammic
Kamma will cease through recognition. In mindfulness, you're
allowing kammic formations to cease rather than recreating them,
or annihilating them and recreating them. It's important to
recollect that whatever you create, you destroy, and what you
annihilate, you create one conditions the other, just as the
inhalation conditions the exhalation. One is the kammic result of
the other. Death is the kammic result of birth, and all we can
know about that which is born and dies is that it is a condition
No matter what the memory might be, it's not-self. If you have the
memory of murdering 999 people that's just a horrendous memory
now. Maybe you think, 'That's getting off too easy; somebody who's
killed 999 people should suffer a long time and be punished and
tormented!' But it's not necessary that we go to any lengths to
punish anyone, because the punishment is the memory. As long as we
remain ignorant, unenlightened, selfish beings, then we tend to
create more kammic cycles. Our lack of forgiveness, lack of
compassion, of trying to get even with 'those evil criminals'
that's our kamma: we have the kammic result of the miserable state
As Buddhists, we take refuge in the Ultimate Truth, and in the
Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha as conventional forms. This means that
we have confidence in the Ultimate Truth, in the Uncreated and the
Unconditioned not in conceiving, but in recognising conditions
as conditions, and allowing kammic formations to cease. We just
keep recognising conditions, instead of being fascinated and
creating more kamma around those conditions through fear, envy,
greed and hatred. This is a gentle recognition that kammic
formations are what we are not. There's nothing we can say about
what we are, because in Ultimate Truth there are no beings: nobody
is ever born or dies.
Our path of practice is to do good, to refrain from doing evil
with body and speech, and to be mindful. Don't create complexities
around it, or seek perfection in the realm of the senses. Learn to
serve and help each other. Take refuge in Sangha by being
confident of your intentions to be enlightened, to do good, to
refrain from doing evil. Maybe you'll fail sometimes, but that's
not your intention and always allow others to fail. We may have
ideas and opinions about each other, but give each other space to
be imperfect rather than demand that everyone be perfect in order
not to upset you. That's very Selfish, isn't it? But that's what
we do, pick and choose: 'These are the ones we want; these are the
ones we don't want.... These are worthy; these are unworthy...
These are the ones that are really trying; these are the ones that
aren't. . . .'
Now, for peace of mind, when somebody does something wrong,
recognise it as a kammic formation. To think, 'How dare they do
that? How dare they say that? How many years have I been teaching
now, giving myself up for the welfare of all sentient beings and I
don't get any thanks for it ... !' that's an unpleasant mental
state. That's the result of wanting everybody else never to fail
me, to always live up to my expectations, or at least to cause me
no problems of wanting people to be other than they are. But if
I don't expect you to be anything, I don't create anyone in my
mind. If I think, 'That's so and so, who did this, and then he did
that!' then I'm creating a person out of kammic conditions and I
suffer accordingly with an unpleasant memory every time I see you.
Now if you're ignorant and do that to me, and I do it back to you
again, then we just reinforce each other's bad habits.
We break these habits by recognising them, by letting go of our
grudges and memories, and by not creating thoughts around the
[See Note 1],
the conditions of the moment. By being mindful, we free ourselves
from the burden of birth and death, the habitually recreated
pattern of kamma and rebirth. We recognise the boring, habitual
recreations of unsatisfactoriness, the obsessions with worry,
doubt, fear, greed, hatred and delusion in all its forms.
When we're mindful, there's no attachment to ideas and memories of
self, and creativity is spontaneous. There's no one who loves or
is loved; there's no personal being that is created. In this way,
we find the real expression of kindness, compassion, joy, and
equanimity that is always fresh, always kind, patient and
ever-forgiving of oneself and others.
1. vipaka: just as kamma is the 'cause' or action, vipaka is the
'effect' or reaction/result.
REALISING THE MIND
And gladness springs up within him on his
realising that, and joy arises to him thus
gladdened, and so rejoicing, all his frame
becomes at ease, and being thus at ease he is
filled with a sense of peace, and in that
peace his heart is stayed.
Digha Nikaya II -73
GIVING TALKS ON MEDITATION, one is really saying the same things
over and over. But it's necessary to do so, because we keep
forgetting over and over, and have to keep being reminded.
Remember: what we remember we forget; if you have nothing to
remember, you have nothing to forget. So, in meditation we are
moving towards where there is nothing to remember and nothing to
forget. Which doesn't mean 'nothing', but a centring: a
realisation of ultimate reality, of that which is not conditioned.
Realisation is not gaining, is it? You don't 'gain' realisation.
You realise something which you have all the time, yet which you
never notice. Meditation is not a gaining process, either. We are
not here to make ourselves into Buddhas, or bodhisattvas or
arahants or anything else, nor to try to just condition our minds
into being Buddhist. You might think you just have to have a
religious brainwash, throw away all your Christian habits and
simply train yourself to think like a Buddhist wear the robe,
try to look like a Buddha image, use all these Pali words and call
ourselves 'Buddhists'. Another costume, isn't it? Another act,
another role to play. So the purpose of our meditation is not to
become 'Buddhists' either.
Realisation ... is what? Think, the word 'real': realising,
recognising, knowing, direct knowledge of ultimate truth.... Now
what do we mean by ultimate truth? We can say, 'Ultimate Truth',
'Dharma' we can use the Pali word 'Dhamma' or the Sanskrit word
'Dharma'; we can say, 'The Absolute; we can say 'God'. Whatever
word one happens to be conditioned with is the word which one
prefers. 'Ultimate Truth' might sound a bit intellectual or not
have the pull on the heartstrings that 'God' has, but we're not
quibbling about terminology any more. We don't care exactly what
word we use. We're not here trying to find the perfect word to
describe something which doesn't need any description, which
cannot really be described but can only be realised. We just do
the best we can with whatever language we happen to have, because
the point is not to decide which terminology is the most accurate
but to get beyond the term to the actual realisation! Of 'Ultimate
Reality' or 'God' or 'The Absolute' or whatever!
On the level of religious symbolism and convention we can spend
our time quibbling about the 'Buddhist view', 'Buddhist Dhamma',
'Christian God'. . . get caught up in all kinds of interesting
little differences and comparisons. For what? For something one
hasn't realised yet, like the blind men describing the elephant
[See Note 1].
It's not that we need to have the perfect word or the most
accurate description ... but to have the intention to get to the
reality to have that one-pointed intention, that sincerity, that
kind of earnestness that takes you to the realisation of truth,
So, if it's already here now, then you don't have to go around
looking for it. There are all these nice stories about religious
pilgrims, religious seekers, going off to the Himalayas ...
looking for some saint living in a cave or looking for some
mystic, some hermit, some arahant, who lives off in some
remote valley or mountain crag, who knows the truth. We must find
that person because he is our teacher and he is going to give us
that truth. We have romantic visions of ourselves suddenly meeting
our teacher: we climb up some remote Himalayan mountain crag,
breathing hard, the air getting thinner and he's standing there
with eyes bright, radiant with love, saying, 'At last you've
come!' We can, on that fictional level, create interesting visions
and fairy-tales about religious seeking; but the journey is an
inward one. So how do we go inward, journey inside ourselves?
We start looking for something, the ultimate reality, as something
we're going to find by looking within. So we think: 'Meditation is
the way. I don't need to go to India. That's foolish rubbish; I
don't need to go to the Himalayan mountains. I can just meditate
and find the truth within myself.' And that's a very good idea
but what is the truth, and what are you looking for?
Is the truth 'something'?
Does it have a quality that we should be able to recognise?
Now, the religious journey is what we call 'inclining to
Nibbana': turning away, inclining away from the sensory world
to the Unconditioned. So it's a very subtle kind of journey. It's
not something you can do just as an act of will; you can't just
say, 'I'm going to realise the truth,' and do it. 'I'm going to
get rid of all my defilements, hindrances ... get rid of lust,
hatred, all my weaknesses and I'm going to get there!'
People who do that usually go crazy. One man I met years ago who
had been a bhikkhu was in a mental hospital. This man had been a 'maha',
meaning he had taken all the Pali examinations. He went off to a
mountain top, went into his little hut, and said, 'I'm not coming
out until I'm perfectly enlightened' and came out stark raving
mad! So if it's just an act of will and ego then, of course, it
takes you to madness. You keep bashing away, knocking about in
your mind. With the ego, you just get caught in a trap. It seems a
web of madness, hard to see beyond, or ever extricate yourself
from. So meditation isn't something we do to attain or achieve or
get rid of anything, but to realise.
So what can we realise now? What can we realise right now?
WelI I've been looking for the Ultimate Reality the whole time
I've been sitting here and I can't find it.'
What can you realise or know now whatever your state of mind is
whether you're agitated; having bad thoughts; if you're angry,
if you're upset, bored, frightened, doubtful, uncertain, or
whatever? You can recognise that that's what is going on now. It's
a realisation that now there is this condition of fear, doubt,
worry, some kind of desire and that it is a changing thing.
If you're frightened of something, try to hold onto that fear
make it stay, so that it becomes a permanent condition of your
mind. See how long you can stay frightened; see if fear is the
ultimate reality, is God. Is fear God, the Ultimate Truth? You can
see fear. When I'm frightened I know it. There's fear, but also,
when I truly realise there's fear, its power to delude me
diminishes. Fear only has the power if I keep giving it the power.
And how does fear have power? By deluding us, by making it seem
more than what it is. Fear presents itself in a big way and we
react: we run away, and then it gains power over us.
That's how to feed the fear demon: by reacting in the way it wants
you to. The fear demon comes ... ferocious, nasty-looking demon
scowls and frowns, shows its fangs and you go, 'Ooh! Help!' and
run away. Then that demon thinks, 'This really is a sucker!'
If you realise the demon, you recognise that the demon is a
condition, nothing more than that. No matter how ferocious or
nasty it might appear, it's nothing really. Simply recognise it as
a condition that looks fierce and nasty. Fear, the feeling of fear
... you begin to recognise that fear is just an illusion of the
mind conditioned. Desire, any form of desire, is the same way:
it has its appearance, it seems to be more than what it really is.
Meditation is breaking down, breaking through the illusion of the
way things seem to be, by recognising, realising conditions as
they are as changing, as unsatisfactory and as not having any
personal quality, not any personal self or soul, as just something
that comes and goes, changes. You begin to stand back, you feel a
space, a gap in yourself. After a while, things that used to
completely overwhelm and demolish you seem more distant; you have
a way of looking at them as if they were something separate rather
than what you are, what I am'.
Meditation is a constant realising realising the conditions of
the mind as just that, as conditions of the mind. Ignorant people
do not understand this. They think the conditions of the mind are
themselves, or they think they shouldn't have certain conditions
and that they should have other kinds of conditions. If you are a
very idealistic person, you would like to be good, saintly,
intelligent, noble, courageous, the finest quality of human being.
'That's what I want to be. I want to be a very noble and fine
person.' Well, that's all very good, you have this ideal: 'That's
what I'd like to be' . . . 'the noble heart' . . .'the courageous
man'. . . 'the gentle, compassionate woman'.
All these are wonderful ideals, but then you have to face the
realities of daily life. We find ourselves being caught up in
getting angry, getting upset, jealous, greedy, thinking all kinds
of unpleasant things about people we know, thoughts and feelings
that, if we were the perfect human beings we would like to be, we
would never think or feel. So then we start thinking: 'I am so far
removed from that ideal human being, that wonderful man, that
perfect woman, that I'm a hopeless, useless, worthless BUM!' Why?
Because the conditions of your mind are not always fitting the
ideal. Sometimes you might be very courageous, very noble-hearted.
At certain moments we find ourselves doing the most wonderful
things, acting in a most courageous way. But at other times the
opposite is the case. We wonder, 'How do such ugly thoughts come
into my mind? If I were really good, I would never have such evil
thoughts or feelings.'
Now, what can we realise, without trying to become anything, is
that these conditions are just that. Whether they are noble,
brave, and courageous, or weak, wishy-washy, ignoble and stupid,
they are still only conditions dependent on all kinds of factors
that we can't predict or control. Begin to realise that, on the
conditional level of samsara, everything is affecting everything.
There's no way that we can say, 'I'm going to isolate myself
completely from everything so that nothing is affecting me,'
because everything is affecting everything all the time. On the
conditioned level, there's nothing much we can do except recognise,
realise although we do have a choice. We can use our bodies for
good action rather than evil; that's where the choice comes. If
you're mindful and wise, then you skilfully use your body and
speech, that which goes out, relates to other beings and to the
earth you live on. You use it skilfully, for that which is kind,
compassionate, charitable and moral.
What goes on in the mind could be anything maybe even the desire
to kill somebody. But that is something you don't act upon. You
just recognise. You can recognise it's only a condition and not
'self', not a personal problem. Have any of you ever had any
murderous impulses? Wanting to kill somebody? I have. I can
understand murder. I've never murdered anybody never came close
but I have certainly had murderous thoughts.
So where do those thoughts come from? Is there something rotten
inside me that I should start worrying about, or is it just the
natural tendency of a mind that when you feel totally repelled
and averse to something, you try to annihilate it? That's natural
enough. Murder is part of nature; it goes on all the time. Animals
murder each other. Just listen some nights in the forest. You hear
murders going on all the time: rabbits screaming as foxes grab
Murder is a natural inclination, it's nothing abnormal; but for
the moral, responsible human being, the religious seeker, although
we might have murderous impulses, we do not act on them. Instead,
we fully recognise these impulses as that as impulses, as
conditions. What I mean by 'recognising' is the realisation, 'They
are just that' not creating a problem, not making it complicated
by saying, 'We shouldn't have such impulses,' or 'l am a bad and
evil man because such an impulse came through my mind,' and so
start creating a neurosis around it. Just that clear realisation
of it as it really is, because that's what we can know directly,
without speculation, without belief.
So that's a realisation, isn't it? Realising the conditioned as
Now, as we are more at ease with the conditioned ? rather than
deluded, helplessly reacting to conditions, absorbed into them,
rejecting or annihilating them we begin to be aware of the
Unconditioned, the space of the mind. You think that conditions
are everything. Conditions have to come from something, don't
they? Since they are impermanent, where do they come from and what
do they disappear into? As you watch, you begin to feel or
experience the emptiness or the wholeness or the Unconditioned
whatever word you use isn't quite it. We say 'the Unconditioned',
that which is not born, does not die.
That's realisation too, for those of you who have realised that.
That's reality. The conditioned is reality, but the quality or
appearance of a condition is not reality, ultimate reality. It's
only a conventional appearance, the way things seem to be on a
habitual, conventional level. Buddhist meditation is the practice
of being awakened, being Buddha by recognising, by realising the
way things really are, as you directly experience whatever it is:
pain in your knees, a feeling of happiness, any sensation,
thought, memory or emptiness ... without grasping, without
selecting, picking or choosing. We develop the equanimous heart,
the mind that is balanced, full, complete and whole, seeing things
as they really are, no longer deluded by anything, by no-thing or
When I talk about realisation, do you see what I mean? It's a
realising. It's not a searching for 'God', or 'Ultimate Truth' as
if it were some 'thing'. Look at the word itself. You say 'God',
and it makes it sound like some 'thing', doesn't it? It does to
me, anyway: the word 'God' sounds like something, somebody, as if
it were a kind of condition. So, at the intellectual level, you
can only go so far on the religious path, only as far as a belief.
If you believe in words or ideas but never get beyond that, you're
still caught in an attachment to an idea about the truth rather
than knowing the truth.
That's why the Buddha did not teach any kind of doctrine or belief
system. I hear Buddhists say, 'Buddhists don't believe in God, and
we don't believe in the soul. If you're a real Buddhist, you don't
have any of that stuff, souls and gods; soulless and godless is
what we are.' But that's an annihilationist teaching, isn't it?
That's pure annihilationism Disbelieving in God and a soul is just
the opposite of the other, of believing: it's not a realising of
truth. It's only the believing of a negation rather than the
believing of an affirmation. I meet Buddhists who were Christians
at one time, and somehow they have been very disillusioned and
they have become very anti-Christian. Because of that, they use
Buddhism as a justification. They put down Christianity and they
think, 'Those Christians believe in God. They're stupid. But we
don't. And those Christians believe in an eternal soul, but we
don't. We don't believe in that stuff. We believe in anatta, no
soul!' But that is not what the Buddha was teaching. That is also
a trap of the mind, limited, deluding us.
Realisation is when you find out and know directly. It's not an
affirmation, saying what Dhamma or the truth is, saying, 'It's
male,' or 'The Dhamma is a man,' or 'The Dhamma is a patriarchal
figure' . . . 'The Dhamma is nothing,' 'The Dhamma is an
impersonal essence' or 'The Dhamma is the essence of everything,'
'The Dhamma is everything and all' getting into these
philosophical positions, intellectual positions that people like
to take about things they haven't realised yet. We're not trying
to define that which is indefinable, but to know, to realise that
which is beyond definition, beyond limitation.
So our Buddhist practice is just that. We have to keep reminding
ourselves, because the force of habit is so strong. We so easily
absorb into our thoughts and memories; so easily absorb into
habits of looking for something or trying to get rid of something;
so easily believe all the opinions and views we have about
ourselves and others and the world we live in. We so easily
believe, because some of our opinions and views are so sensible,
so rational, so practical, reasonable, intelligent, brilliant
'The brilliant views and opinions that I have.'
We are not trying to say that you shouldn't have brilliant views
and opinions, either. It's all right to have brilliant views and
opinions, as long as you recognise that that's what they are: they
are impermanent conditions of mind. Don't exaggerate their
importance. Also, don't feel bad if you're not very intelligent
and have really stupid views and opinions; don't worry about it.
Because that is just the same as the other, as far as we're
concerned. Realisation. . . rather than an affirmation or a
In this way of realising is what we call The Middle Way. It's
mindfulness, meaning the mind is open, full, complete. You're no
longer taking just a fragment and attaching, obsessing yourself
with one little bitty condition, saying 'This little bitty
condition, this tiny little insignificant opinion that I have is
the Ultimate Reality.'
What I am presenting this evening you've heard it over and over
is to remind you, for you to reflect upon, to keep recognising,
realising. The little things in daily life ... work with them,
begin to really watch. If you're looking for something, if you
hate authority, if some monk says, 'Do this ... do the dishes, '
and you feel resentment or anger someone telling you to do
something that's a condition of mind! Keep recollecting rather
than getting caught up with trying to figure out whether this
outfit is the best one for you. . . whether all the monks are
wise, enlightened people, who have any right to tell you what to
do ... feeling guilty because you get angry and you think you
shouldn't ... and all the other complex mental creations around
anything that happens during the day! We weave all these
complexities around things. Some monk says, 'Do the dishes!' and
you think 'How dare he talk to me like that. I've been meditating
many more years than he has. I've written books on Buddhism. I
have a degree from the University of Wisconsin, a Ph.D. in
Buddhist Studies ... and that nincompoop tells me to do the
Don't make problems out of life's conditions, but keep
recollecting. This way of recollecting, realisation, is more
important than trying to make everything just right ... trying to
straighten out all the monks and all the anagarikas, or trying to
make Chithurst into a perfect place where you feel that everybody
is exactly what they should be. It's like trying to make
everything in the world perfect just an endless, hopeless job;
you cannot do it.
Recognise: as long as things are adequate, use your life here for
this kind of practice. Don't waste it on unnecessary complaining
or fantasising, projecting all kinds of things onto other beings
or feeling guilty because some of your reactions and feelings
aren't what you think they should be. Do you see what I mean? The
important thing is not trying to think perfect thoughts or to act
like saints, but to realise the way things are. What can be
realised now is whatever is going on in your mind, in your
consciousness. So it's an immediate practice, here and now.
Our form is always moral, which means not to use our physical
conditions or verbal abilities for harmful, cruel, selfish,
exploitive activities ... but to relate to each other in an active
way with kindness, compassion, love relating to each other in
gentle ways. If you can't love someone, just be kind to them. If
you feel a lot of anger or hatred towards me, at least refrain
from hitting and killing me. That's all I ask! Practise metta for
those you can't stand and want to kill. It's all right to have
those feelings, but just keep realising them as feelings without
acting on them. You are not expected to never have any unkind
We do keep within that physical limitation, always within the
impeccable form of sila. Also, we actively help each other: with
dana being charitable, kindly, considerate, generous
with each other, that helps us get along in a pleasant way. When
we share and are kind to each other, life is much more enjoyable
than when we don't. It's really much nicer when people are kind
and generous at least I find it so than when they're not.
However, if you can't be kind and generous and charitable, at
least refrain from being evil, doing nasty things.
Realise that everything that arises passes away and is not-self. A
constant refrain, isn't it? A realising. Whatever your hang-ups
are, let them become fully conscious, so that you begin to realise
them as conditions, rather than personal problems. Let go of the
identity of yourself as having problems with this or that, and
realise the problems we do have are conditions that come and go
and change. They are not 'me', not 'mine'; they are not 'what I
am'. You are continually recollecting until you begin to break
through ... until, as you develop in this way, the mind begins to
clear, because you are allowing things to cease. You're not
reinforcing habits all the time; you are allowing habits that have
arisen to cease, to end, and you begin to find a calm, a peace
an unshakeable peace within yourself.
1. Refers to a comparison made by the Buddha of blind men trying
to describe an elephant accurately. Each man is touching a
different part of the elephant ear, trunk, leg, etc. and
therefore erroneously describes the elephant in terms of that one
ATTACHMENT TO TEACHERS
It may be, Ananda, that in some of you the
thought may arise, 'The word of the master
is ended, we have no teacher any more!'
But it is not thus, Ananda, that you should
regard it. The Truths, and the Rules of the
Order, which I have set forth and laid down
for all of you, let them, after I am gone,
be the teacher to you.
Digha Nikaya XVI -153
BEEN ASKED TO TALK on the human problem of preference and choice.
People have many problems with preferring one monk, one teacher,
or one tradition to another. They get adjusted, or attached, to a
certain teacher and find that because of that they can't learn
from any other teacher. This is an understandable human problem,
because our preferences for one allow us to be open to what he or
she is saying, and when somebody else comes along we don't want to
open up and learn from them. We may not like them, or we might
feel doubtful or uncertain about them, and so we tend to resent
and not want to listen to them. Or, we may have heard rumours, and
have heard opinions and views that this teacher is this way and
that one is that way.
Now the structure of Buddhist convention is designed mainly to pay
respect to Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha rather than to a particular
personality or guru, in order to cut through this human failing of
attachment to a charismatic teacher. The Sangha, as represented by
the Bhikkhu-Sangha, is worthy of respect and worthy of alms if
they live according to the Discipline [vinaya]; and
that's a better standard than deciding whether we like them, or
whether their personalities agree with ours.
Sometimes we learn a lot from having to listen to, and obey, some
particular person we may not like very much. Human nature is to
try to adjust our lives so that we are always with or following
somebody we feel compatible with. For example, at Wat Nong Pah
Pong, it was easy to follow someone like Ajahn Chah because one
felt so much respect and admiration for such a teacher that it was
no problem to listen to what he said and to obey his every word.
Sometimes one did feel conflict or resentment, but because of the
power of such a person, one could always let go of one's pride and
But, at times we were faced with having to be with bhikkhus who
were senior to us who we didn't particularly like or even respect,
and we could see many faults and personality traits in them that
we found offensive. However, in training under the Discipline, we
would do what was proper, what was appropriate and suitable,
rather than just be petty and run away, or insult, or carry
unpleasant thoughts in our minds towards that particular person.
It was a very good training. Sometimes Ajahn Chah would, I think,
deliberately send us off to be with difficult people to give us a
chance to mellow a bit, to give in a bit and to learn to do the
right thing, rather than just to follow the particular emotion
that might be aroused at the time.
All of us have our own kind of personality. We can't help that:
our personalities are just as they happen to be, and whether we
find then charming or boring, this isn't a matter of Dhamma but of
personal preference and compatibility. In practice of the Dhamma,
we no longer seek to attach to friendship or to liking someone
we are no longer seeking to be only with that which we like and
esteem, but instead to be able to maintain a balance under all
conditions. So our training under the Vinaya Discipline is always
to do what is right through action or speech, rather than to use
action and speech for what is harmful, petty, cruel, selfish or
egotistical. Vinaya gives us the chance to practise under all
kinds of situations and conditions.
I notice in this country that people have strong attachments to
various teachers. They say, 'My teacher is this. He is my teacher,
and I can't go to any other teacher because I'm loyal and devoted
to my teacher.' This is a very English sense of devotion and
loyalty to someone, to the point where it may become too much. One
becomes bound to an ideal, to a person, rather than to the truth.
Our refuges are deliberately set up as Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha,
rather than as the personality of any teacher. You don't take
refuge in Ajahn Chah, or in any of the bhikkhus here ... unless
you are an unusually silly person. You could say, 'Ajahn Sumedho
is my teacher; Ajahn Tiradhammo is not my teacher. I'll only learn
from Venerable Sucitto and not from any other' along like that.
We can create all kinds of problems in this way, can't we? 'I'm a
Theravada Buddhist; therefore I can't learn from those Tibetan
Buddhists or those Zen Buddhists.' It's very easy for us to become
sectarian in this way because, if something is different from what
we're used to, we suspect it of not being as good as or as pure as
what we've devoted ourselves to. But in meditation, what we are
aiming at is truth, full understanding and enlightenment,
inclining away from the jungle of selfishness, conceit, pride, and
human passions. So it's not very wise to attach to a particular
teacher to the point where you refuse to learn from any other.
But some teachers encourage this attitude. They say, 'Once you
take me as your teacher, then don't you go to any other teacher!
Don't you learn from any other tradition! If you accept me as your
teacher, you can't go to any other.' There are a lot of teachers
that bind you to themselves in that way, and they have very good
reasons sometimes, because people just 'go shopping'. They go from
one teacher to another teacher, and another ... and never learn
anything. But I think the problem is not so much in 'shopping' as
in attaching to a teacher or tradition to the point where you have
to exclude all others. That makes for a sect, a sectarian mind,
with which people cannot recognise wisdom or learn from anything
unless it's in the exact words and conventions that they are used
to. That keeps us very limited, narrow and frightened. People
become afraid to listen to another teacher because it might cause
doubt to arise in their minds, or they might feel that they are
not being a loyal student of their particular tradition. The
Buddhist Path is to develop wisdom, and loyalty and devotion help
in that. But if they are ends in themselves, then they are
Wisdom' in this sense means using wisdom in our practice of
meditation. How do we do that? How do we use wisdom? By
recognising our own particular forms of pride, conceit, and the
attachments we have to our views and opinions, to the material
world, to the tradition and the teacher, and to the friends we
have. Now this doesn't mean that we think we shouldn't attach, or
that we should get rid of all these. That's not wise either,
because wisdom is the ability to observe attachment and understand
it and let go rather than attach to ideas that we shouldn't be
attached to anything.
Sometimes you hear monks or nuns or lay people here saying, 'Don't
attach to anything.' So we attach to the view that we shouldn't be
attached! 'I'm not going to attach to Ajahn Sumedho; I can learn
from anybody. I'm going to leave, just to prove I'm not attached
to Venerable Sumedho.' Then you're attaching to the idea that you
shouldn't be attached to me, or that you've got to go away to
prove that you're not attached which isn't it at all. That's not
being wise, is it? You're just attaching to something else. You
may go to Brockwood Park and hear Krishnamurti'
[See Note 1]
and then you think 'I'm not going to attach to those religious
conventions, all that bowing, Buddha images, monks and all that
stuff. Krishnamurti says it is all poppycock: "Don't have anything
to do with it, all that is useless." ' So you attach to the view
that religious conventions are all useless, and you shouldn't have
anything to do with them. But that's also an attachment, isn't it?
attachment to views and opinions and if you attach to what
Krishnamurti says, or you attach to what I say, it's still an
So we're recognising attachment, and it's wisdom that recognises
attachment. This doesn't mean that we have to attach to any other
opinion, but to just recognise and know attachment frees us from
being deluded by the attachments we do make.
Recognise that attaching does have a certain value. We have to
learn to walk first of all by crawling, just by waving our arms
and legs. When a baby is young, the mother doesn't say, 'Don't
wave your arms and legs like that! Walk!' or 'You'll always be
dependent on me, nursing at my breast, clinging to me all the
time, you'll just be clinging to your mother all your life!' The
baby needs to attach to the mother. But if it's the mother's
intention to keep the baby attached to her all the time, then it's
not very wise of her. When we can allow people to attach to us in
order to give them strength, so that when they have strength they
can let go of us, that's compassion.
Conventional forms are things that we can use according to time
and place, and wisely consider and learn from rather than
forming an opinion that we shouldn't be attached to anything, but
be completely independent and self-sufficient. The position of a
Buddhist monk is a very dependent existence. We are dependent on
the requisites offered by lay people: on food, on robes, on a
place to live, and medicine for illness. We have no money, no way
of cooking food, growing food, or providing for ourselves. We have
to depend on the kindness of other people for the basic
necessities of life. People say, 'Why don't you grow your own
food, and become self-sufficient so that you don't need all these
people? You can be independent.' That's highly valued in our
society's terms to be self-sufficient, independent, not in debt
to anyone, not dependent on anything. Yet there are these rules
and conventions designed by Gotama the Buddha they weren't
designed by me. If I had my way, I would probably have designed it
differently: it would be nice to be selfsufficient, have my
little cabbage patch all to myself, my private funds, my little
hermitage I don't need you, I'm independent and free,
When I took ordination, I didn't really know what I was getting
into; I found out later that I had made myself totally and
completely dependent on other people. My family had the white,
middle-class, Anglo-Saxon, self-sufficient, independent,
don't-depend-on-anyone type of philosophy. In America we call it
the W.A.S.P. White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant syndrome. You're
not like Southern Europeans that depend on their mamas and all
that. You are completely independent from your mother and father;
you're Protestant no Popes, none of that stuff, you are not
subservient, Black people might have to be in a subservient
position, but being White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, means that
you're at the top of the social scale you're the best.
Then I found myself in a Buddhist country, taking samanera
[novice] ordination at the age of thirty-two. In Thailand, little
boys ordain as samaneras, so I had to sit with the little Thai
boys all the time. Here I was, six foot two, thirty-two years old,
having to sit and eat my meals and fall in line with little boys
it was very embarrassing for me. I had to be dependent on people
to give me food, or whatever; I couldn't have any money. So I
considered this: 'What is the purpose of this? What is the value?
What did the Buddha mean? Why did he do it this way? Why didn't he
follow the White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant values like my parents?'
But I began to appreciate the need, the goodness, of being
dependent in the right way, of admitting interdependence. It takes
some humility to learn to be dependent on others again. With pride
and conceit, one thinks, 'I don't want to be in debt or owe
anything to anybody.' Here, we humbly recognise our dependence on
each other: dependence on the anagarikas [postulants], on the lay
people, on the junior monks. Even though I'm senior bhikkhu here,
I'm still very dependent on the rest of you. This is always to be
considered in one's life, rather than to be rejected or be
resented, because we recognise that we are always interdependent,
helping each other. This is a dependence based on conventions and
on the material world, and on compassionate and joyous
relationships. Even if we don't have any joy or love for each
other, we can at least be kind, not vindictive or nasty to each
other. We can trust each other.
Don't expect any social situation, any society, any organisation
or group to be perfect or to be an end in itself. It's only a
conventional form, and like anything, it is unsatisfactory if
we're expecting to be completely satisfied by it. Any teacher or
guru that you attach to will inevitably disappoint you in some
respect even if they are saintly gurus, they still die ... or
they disrobe and marry 16-year-old girls.... They might do
anything: the history of religious idols can be really
disillusioning! I used to consider, when I was a young bhikkhu in
Thailand, what would I do if Ajahn Chah suddenly said, 'Buddhism
is a farce! I want nothing to do with it! I'm going to disrobe and
marry a rich woman'? What would I do if Ajahn Buddhadasa, one of
the famous scholar-monks of Thailand, said, 'Studying Buddhism all
these years is a farce, it's a waste of time. I'm going to become
What would I do if the Dalai Lama disrobed and married an American
lady? What would I do if Venerables Sucitto and Tiradhammo and all
these people just suddenly said, 'I'm going to leave. I want to
get out and have some fun!'? If all the anagarikas suddenly said,
'I'm fed up with this!'? All the nuns ran away with the anagarikas?
What would I do?
Does my being a monk depend on the support or devotion of all the
other people around me, or the pronouncements of Ajahn Chah or the
Dalai Lama? Does my practice of meditation depend upon support
from others, encouragement, and having everybody live up to my
expectations? If it does, it could be easily destroyed, couldn't
When I was a junior monk, I used to consider that I must have
confidence in my own insight and not depend on every, one around
me supporting my particular position. Through the years I've had
many chances to be disillusioned in this life ... but I keep
reflecting, rather than depending on everything going in a
positive way for me. What I'm doing I have confidence in, from my
own understanding of it, not because I believe or need the support
and approval of others. In your life you must ask these questions:
is your becoming a samana a monk or a nun dependent upon me
encouraging you, upon others, upon hope, expectations for the
future, upon rewards and all that? Or are you determined in your
own right to realise the truth?
Then stay within the particular conventional form, pushing it to
its ultimate just to see how far it can take you, rather than give
up when it doesn't, when you begin to be disillusioned with the
whole thing. Sometimes at Wat Pah Pong I felt so fed up with
things and felt so negative towards the other monks, not because
they did anything very wrong, but just because I became depressed
and couldn't see anything other than negative views. Then it was
necessary to observe it, rather than to believe it, for one
endures through the unendurable ... to find that one can endure
So we're not here to find my teacher, but to be willing to learn
from everything from the rats and the mosquitoes, from the
inspired teachers, from the depressed ones, from the ones that
disappoint us and the ones that never disappoint us. Because we're
not trying to find perfection in conventional forms, or in
Last year, I went back to Thailand and saw Ajahn Chah very ill,
not the same ebullient, humorous, loveable man I used to know ...
just like a sack of flesh sitting there like that ... and I would
think, 'Oh, I wish Ajahn Chah weren't like that. My teacher ...
Ajahn Chah is my teacher, and I don't want him to be like that. I
want him to be like the Ajahn Chah I used to know, that you could
sit and listen to, and then you could tell Ajahn Chah stories to
all the other monks.' You'd say, 'Do you remember Ajahn Chah said
this, this wonderfully wise thing?' Then somebody else from
another tradition says Well, our teacher said this.' So you'd
have a competition as to who's the wisest. Then when your teacher
sits there like a sack of flesh, you say, 'Ohhh ... maybe I chose
the wrong teacher ... ' But the desire to have a teacher, the best
teacher, the teacher that never fails you it's suffering, isn't
The point of the Buddhist teaching is to be able to learn from
living teachers or from dead ones. When Ajahn Chah dies, we can
still learn from him go look at his corpse! You might say, 'I
don't want Ajahn Chah to be a corpse. I want him to be the
ebullient, humorous, loveable teacher I knew twenty years ago. I
don't want him to be just a rotting corpse with worms coming out
of his eyes.' How many of you are willing to look at your loved
ones when they are dead, when you want to remember them at their
best? Just like my mother now she has a picture of me when I was
17 years old, graduated from high school, wearing a suit and tie,
with my hair nicely combed you know how they take pictures in
professional studios so that you look much better than you ever
really do. So this picture of me is hanging in my mother's room.
Mothers want to think of their sons as always being clean-cut and
handsome, young ... but what if I died and started rotting away,
maggots coming out of my eyes, and somebody took a picture of me
and sent it to my mother? It would be monstrous wouldn't it?
to put it beside the picture of me when I was 17 years old! But
this is like holding onto an image of Ajahn Chah as he was five
years ago, and then seeing him as he is now.
As a meditator, one can use this life as we experience it by
reflecting on it, learning from it, rather than demanding that
teachers, sons, daughters, mothers or whoever remain in their
perfect form always. We make that demand when we never really look
at them, never really get to know anyone very well, just hold onto
an ideal, an image that we preserve and never question or learn
For a meditator, everything is teaching us something ... if we're
willing to learn to coexist with it, with the successes and
failures, the living and the dead, the good memories and the
disappointments. And what do we learn? that these are only
conditions of our mind. They're the things that we create and
attach to and whatever we attach to is going to take us to
despair and death. That's the ending of whatever begins. So we
learn from that. We learn from our sorrows and grief, our
disillusionment, and we can let go. We can allow life to operate
following the laws of Nature and witness this, freeing ourselves
from the illusion of self as being connected with the mortal
condition. And so all conditions take us to the Unconditioned
even our sorrows and grief take us to emptiness, freedom and
liberation, if we are humble and patient.
Sometimes life is easier when we don't have too many choices to
make. When you have too many wonderful gurus it must be a bit
frustrating, to have to listen to such fantastic Wisdom, bubbling
out from so many charismatic, wise sages. But even the wisest
sages, the finest human beings in the world today, are only
conditions of our mind. The Dalai Lama, Ajahn Chah, Buddhadasa,
Tan Chao Khun Paρρananda, the Pope, Archbishop of Canterbury,
Margaret Thatcher, and Mr. Reagan ... they are nothing but
conditions of our own mind, aren't they? We have likes, dislikes
and prejudices, but these are things conditioned into the mind
and all these conditions, hatred or love or whatever, take us to
the Unconditioned, if we are patient and enduring and willing to
use wisdom. You might find it easier to believe what I say it's
easier than finding out for yourself but believing what I say is
not going to nourish you. The wisdom that I use in my life is
nourishing me only. It might encourage you to use wisdom, but you
have to actually eat the food yourself to be nourished, rather
than believe what I say.
The Buddhist Path is just that a way for each one of us to
realise the truth. It throws us back onto ourselves again, making
us look and reflect on our lives rather than being caught in the
devotion and hope that take us to their opposites.
So consider what I've said this evening and reflect on it. Don't
believe it, don't disbelieve it. If you have any prejudices or
opinions and views, it's all right, just see them as they are, as
conditions of your mind, and learn from them.
1. Brockwood Park, less than an hour's drive from Chithurst, is
the site of a school run by followers of the late J. Krishnamurti.
He was often resident there around the time this talk was given.